Bluffton Holiday Traditions

Discover a few favorite ways to celebrate the holiday season in the Lowcountry.

We don’t have white Christmases in Bluffton. There are no jingle bells on sleigh rides, no icicles and no bundling of mittens and earmuffs, but we have plenty of cherished holiday traditions!

Hands warmed over roasting oysters, thick slices of Claxton fruitcake, delicate strings of multi-colored lights twining around palmetto trunks—a Lowcountry holiday is bright indeed. This December, The Bluffton Breeze looks at a few signature traditions that make the season merry Bluffton-style, from handmade shell wreaths to the Bluffton Christmas parade.

Cut Your Own Christmas Tree

Our climate is too warm for the fir and spruce trees typically favored as seasonal decorations. However, native cypress and pines will do just as nicely. A&A Christmas Trees off Highway 170 in Okatie is a family-run farm that offers the experience of selecting and cutting your own tree from rows of carefully trimmed and shaped white pines and Leyland cypresses. They also ship in pre-cut North Carolina Fraser firs for those who want this distinctive fragrance and look. A&A Christmas Trees was started more than 40 years ago by Jerry and Dianne Youngblood when Jerry decided to harvest a few cedars Dianne’s grandmother had planted and then try his luck selling them as Christmas trees.

“I don’t think we sold but 20-something trees that year, but it got me thinking,” said Jerry, who was a banker at the time and knew nothing of farming or horticulture. “I learned as I went.”

In 1985, he left the banking industry and went into Christmas tree farming full-time, creating a successful business that he and Dianne recently turned over to their daughter and son-in-law, Anne and Daniel Doe. Jerry still helps out on the farm, and he loves seeing customers who used to come every year with their parents—now  returning with children of their own. A&A takes excellent care of their trees, including the shipped-in firs, which are never left in the sun or without water.

“The Fraser fir is the Cadillac of Christmas trees,” said Jerry. “But even if people get a Fraser, a lot of times they want to go out in the fields and look around. I think they enjoy it more than buying a tree out of a parking lot.”

A&A Christmas Trees, located at 42 Old Cooler Circle in Okatie, opens for the season the day after Thanksgiving and is open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., seven days a week. For more information, please call  (843) 384-4485 or visit aachristmastrees.com

Deck The Halls with Shells

Nothing says Christmas at the beach like a sand dollar Santa, but nothing says Christmas on the river like an oyster shell wreath. Do both! Julie Oliver handcrafts Lowcountry-themed holiday decorations using shells she collects on the Hilton Head shoreline, then sells her work at craft fairs and on her website. Her creations include sand dollar “snowpeople” with yarn hair and ribbon bowties, grapevine wreaths covered in oyster shells and red silk flowers, mini-wreath ornaments painstakingly coated in broken shell bits and starfishes to hang on the tree. All the seashells are bleached a beautiful white.

“I honestly feel it doesn’t have to snow,” said Julie, who also runs a face-painting business. “When I was a child, I lived in Connecticut for 10 years, but then we moved to Florida and we were in the pool. Christmas is what you make out of it, not whether it’s hot or cold.”

For Julie, the shell crafts came about as a silver lining to hardship.

“My dear husband passed away eight years ago of cancer,” she said. “While he was sick, he needed a bedside project—and his project became my project.”

To order a shell wreath or other handmade craft, contact Julie Oliver at (843) 715-2189 or visit morgansmommy.com online.

Enjoy the Bluffton Christmas Parade

No one knows exactly when it started—sometime during the ‘80s—but by now the Bluffton Christmas Parade is as much a part of Bluffton as the May River or the Nickel Pumpers.

“It’s where you are on the first Saturday of December,” said Joy Nelson, community relations manager for the Bluffton Police Department, and one of the parade’s coordinators. “It’s quirky, it’s unique and there’s not a lot of pomp and circumstance—it just is what it is. You come out and be yourself.”

The parade features nearly 100 entries, from floats and groups to individuals riding in their cars or even on their tractors. The beauty of it, says Joy, is that anyone can participate, even if they just want to walk along pulling a little red wagon. Schools, churches, realtors, towing companies, motorcycle groups and, naturally, horses are all part of the holiday parade.

Year after year, people look forward to seeing parade fixtures such as the Red Cedar Fox Float and the Parris Island Marine Corps Marching Band, which participates in high-profile parades all over the country, but still finds time for lil’ ol’ Bluffton. Important dignitaries are always invited. Senators Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham have made special appearances, and Congressman Mark Sanford returns every year. It’s a very inclusive event, so grab your lawn chairs and babies and head to Old Town for the 2017 Bluffton Christmas Parade.

Fire Up an Oyster Roast

Picture a cheery blaze to warm the cold night air, festive showers of sparks shooting up toward a canopy of palm fronds silhouetted against the winter stars, the camaraderie of friends and loved ones clutching beverages and belly-laughing merrily.

What could make this scene better? A few bushels of oysters.

Spread them on a heavy metal plate on the fire, cover them with wet towels and, when they’ve just popped open from the steam, dump them over a shucking table where people crowd with oyster knives and hot sauces to get in on the feast. It’s food, entertainment and climate control all at once, and it’s one of Bluffton’s most enduring seasonal revelries. Chances are you will be invited to at least one oyster roast this year, but if not, throw your own!

May River oysters—known for their bright, salty flavor—are available every way you can think of at the Bluffton Oyster Company on Wharf Street, from pre-shucked quarts to bushels of single selects.

Owned and operated by the Toomer Family, this is your go-to for any kind of fresh local seafood, and they also cater special events.

For more information about the Bluffton Oyster Company, please call (843) 757-4010 or visit blufftonoyster.com.

Kick Off A Healthy New Year

For many Southerners, the traditional New Year’s dish is Hoppin’ John, made from black-eye peas and rice, accented with chow-chow relish. But why not work up an appetite first?

Nothing makes you hungry like running. The 2018 New Year’s Day Polar Bear Run & Walk will start and finish at Publix in Buckwalter Place and will take participants through Buckwalter Place and down both the Buckwalter and Bluffton Parkways. This chilly, family-friendly run will make you feel like you’ve died and been reborn, your mind reeling with gratitude and every cell in your body tingling with new life.

So grab your running shoes, your loved ones and a thermos of hot toddy, and we’ll see you in 2018 at the New Year’s Day Polar Bear Run & Walk!

The 11th Annual New Year’s Day Polar Bear Run & Walk will take place on Monday, Jan. 1 at 10 a.m. at Buckwalter Place. To learn more, call (843) 757-8520 or visit bearfootsports.com

The 2017 Bluffton Christmas Parade will take place on Saturday, December 2 from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. in downtown Bluffton. 

By Michele Roldán-Shaw