The Holidays are almost here, and on Callawassie Island we’ve been as busy as ever, preparing to-do lists, brainstorming gifts ideas and planning family get-togethers. It’s a tradition on Callawassie for our “Christmas Elves” to create a wave of joy, spreading happiness to the community with their selfless acts of holiday spirit.
“There are about 20 of us, and every year we start at around nine in the morning, and are finished by lunchtime. The end result is magical, no matter what holiday you celebrate these decorations truly get you in the holiday spirit,” says Lee Scott.
The Callawassie elves begin decorating our island during Thanksgiving weekend. That way, when residents visit the Clubhouse on the following Tuesday, they’ll walk into a newly decorated Clubhouse with gorgeous Christmas trees erected in every room.
The decoration and celebration of Christmas has a rich history in the Lowcountry, originating from when the Gullah population found their way to the Hilton Head Island and Beaufort area in the late seventieth century through the mid 1900’s. This influx of the Gullah population was mostly due to the relative isolation of the Sea Island’s at the time. The Gullah people were able to speak in their own languages and dialects and able to preserve much of their original African traditions.
Through an intersection of political, social, and historical circumstances, the Gullah people created a culturally fertile way of life within their language, foods, music, skills, and art. Though born of heartache and saved through perseverance, the Gullah culture has not only survived, but still flourishes today.
Gullah Christmas Traditions: There is an estimated 200,000 Gullah living along America’s southeastern region. The Gullah people are a community recognized as a “living, breathing” culture – comfortable in its legacy and continuing heritage.
Below is an excerpt about the Gullah New Year from the book Gullah Cultural Legacies by Emory S. Camp.
“We have decorated our Christmas trees with natural ornaments as Spanish Moss, holly bushes, and pine cones. Families cooked all night as children went to bed early. Parents and children, who were too old for Santa’s gifts, prepared Christmas meats such as fresh pork, raccoon, rabbit and turkey. On Christmas Day, everyone woke up very merry! Red wagons, dolls, key-wound toys, battery run trains and clothing would clutter the tree. At our house, my mother usually prepared early morning breakfast: grits and Seafood — fish, shrimp or oysters — with browned onion gravy served and her deliciously baked biscuits and hot cocoa. Soon after breakfast, men and children separately visited every house in the neighborhood. The children would be served fresh nuts, candy, and fruits and a glass of soft drink. The men would be served portions of meat, veggies, starches, and desserts; or a full meal of rice dishes, baked raccoon, potato salad, turkey, roast pork, potato pie, turnip greens, pumpkin pie, etc. Fine wines were made from the berries of the Spring.”
Eventually Christmas would come to a regretful end just before the New Year arrived, and everyone would soon begin preparing for the upcoming year.
Callawassie Island Christmas Traditions: There are many traditions practiced by Callawassie residents that stem from Gullah tradition however, one main tradition is the decoration of the holiday trees. And it is this time of the year that Callawassie Elves beautifully decorate the holiday trees put on display throughout each of our Island’s amenities.
Each tree is reflective of our island’s pure and natural beauty. Oyster shells, palmetto fronds sprayed silver or gold, magnolia branches and pine straw are just a few of the organic, Lowcountry elements used. The elves collect these decorations all year long, constantly updating and refreshing their holiday trees to remain festive and fresh.
“We want to emulate our surroundings, so we do not use a lot of fake stuff. We want to be as natural as possible” says Pat Ano. “We also want to be as inclusive as possible. This is a tight knit community. I mean, I can tell who a person is by their golf swing. But we are also very welcoming and we love it when new “elves” join us and bring a new perspective.”
The Callawassie Island holiday decorations have become a tradition shared and enjoyed by many people, not just Callawassie residents. “Sun City residents love to come here and see the trees” says Ano, “and of course, there’s the residents’ families who come for a visit every year. It’s great to see their faces light up.”
All of us at Callawassie Island are truly looking forward to a warm and fun holiday season, and hope you are as well. Come visit our Island and see the traditions we share, and the decorations we have done. We promise you won’t be disappointed!