Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, we used this weekend to get our holiday cheer on all over town.
During Saturday evening’s Christmas tree lighting in Marion Square, all eyes were scanning the area for signs of wildlife. After last year’s infamous tree lighting in which a 10-foot-tall giraffe got spooked and scared the bejeezus out of the crowd by bucking and flailing, the city made a conservative move and pulled the show off with only human participants.
In lieu of animals, the event featured real-life human performers, including the Palmetto Bronze handbell choir, the Village Repertory Co., and the Summervillle Civic Ballet. For the grand finale, Mayor Pro Tem William Dudley Gregorie performed an awkward skit with the emcee about Santa Claus getting lost en route to Charleston before the big man in red finally showed up, the lights turned on, and everyone went home unscathed by hoof or claw.
On Monday, we made our way to the Holiday Festival of Lights at James Island County Park. Before even entering the park, we saw a decent amount of lights — teddy bears, candy canes, and bows lined the entrance. But our favorite was the line of nutcrackers that welcomed us in. We tuned in to the radio station (1630 AM) that accompanies the festival and began the route while listening to John Lennon crooning “Happy Christmas (War is Over).” Now in its 24th year, it’s understandable that many of the displays stay the same from year to year — like the Grace Memorial Bridge that turns into the Ravenel or the falling leaves. But isn’t that what the holiday season is all about? Traditions, routines, and rituals?
The Festival of Lights features all the usual players, with Rudolph, elves, and Santa popping up across the three-mile tour in a number of different situations. Elves rode a ferris wheel, and Rudolph helped fix a chimney. We even learned that Santa is a pretty badass golf player, as a moving light display shows him shooting a hole-in-one.
The lights led us through Sealand where seahorses frolicked, sharks circled, and Santa rode what we assumed was an inner tube. We parked our cars next and wandered around on foot. A few guests roasted marshmallows over a fire pit, and even more sipped on hot chocolate. But we didn’t see anyone partake in the turkey legs the park was selling for $7 a pop, nor did we see anyone buying the LED mohawks.
We left the vendors and made our way to this year’s sandcastle design. The winning creation looked like it was celebrating peace frogs, but upon closer inspection we realized that they were actually penguins wanting to spread peace from pole to pole. We left the sand creation and tried to find Santa. It wasn’t hard. Being that it was a Monday night, there wasn’t a line to meet Santa, and a few families made their way to the jolly man. The smell of funnel cakes and kettle corn made the mood just right. The carousel also didn’t see too many visitors, but those who did ride it posed for pictures as their horses made their way around.
Then we headed back to the car and found our favorite themed display: Toyland. Spinning tops and building blocks lined the road, but what made Toyland so cool was the dinosaurs. T. Rexes and raptors surrounded an erupting volcano that left us questioning the holiday connection. But it was that unexpectedness that made it so great.
With over 700,000 lights it was hard to find anything to be a Scrooge about — except perhaps for the commercialization of the event. A gift shop, dubbed Santa’s Workshop, sold trinkets like Elf on the Shelf sets, kitschy gifts, ornaments, even pillows. We understand the sponsorships of certain displays — and the signs denoting these donors — but the cart selling the LED wands and many of the goods in the workshop made us pause for a second. But only a second. It was too hard not to be caught up in the merriment and joy the lights were bringing to everyone around us to really dwell on overpriced merchandise.
On our way out, we heard a little girl trying to convince her mom that she wasn’t tired and could stay longer. “My eyes were just cold,” she lamented, explaining why they were shutting. Not fooling her mom, they made their way to their car. Our eyes were also feeling a little “cold,” so we made our way home as well.