Coming downstairs in flannel jammies and stocking feet, to see if Santa really understood what we put on our list, may well have been the Christmas moment we most looked forward to when we were children. For many of us grownups, though, it’s the decorating that we feel called on to do when Christmas nears, and that brings forth the feelings we look forward to most. The bright objects we pull from storage along with the memories they bring, and with the new decorations we add, capture the magic of the Christmas experience.

Like the Christmas season, the Callawassie Island way of getting ready for the holidays takes shape on many levels. Our Island as a whole, the places we gather together to celebrate, and our own homes get layers of festive Season treatment that are as unique to our island as the residents who join together to create them.

Watch Bob Gould talk about his family being drawn to Callawassie:

Connected on Every Level

Let’s start at the causeway, where so many neighbors felt the dawn of the desire to make Callawassie Island our home. The Garden Club takes charge of decorating the great outdoors here, with the efforts headed up by Jill Schultz, closely assisted by Claire Parkinson. Preparations begin in October when new greens are ordered, and an open call is made for volunteers. This year, the volunteer team turned up 40 willing workers, both members, and non-members of the Garden Club. In addition to displays that greet people coming and going at the gate, the Club festively adorns the bridges, lampposts, street signs, fences, and the title-stones for individual neighborhoods. Our billboard on Hwy.170 gets the Garden Club treatment for Christmas, and lighted reindeer say “Come back soon,” as drivers exit our gate.

The size of this task is suggested by the fact that 72 bundles of greens went into the assembly of dozens of swags, sprays, and wreaths, assembled and placed by the volunteers’ efforts this year. Volunteers also gathered magnolia leaves, cedar, and pine cones to punctuate the displays. No further beauty is needed here on Callawassie Island, yet the efforts of the Garden Club and other volunteers make sure our vistas include a reference that says, “Merry Christmas.”

The Callawassie Island Club and our newly-renovated River Club are decorated by a team known as “the Indoor Elves” and led by Pat Ano. They gained this name because of the quickness, experience, and planning with which our clubs are transformed – on a single day, December 2.

With a process that sounds as much like tradition, trusty facilities and crew director Larry Hindall meets the volunteers at the Club at 9:30 a.m. with all the materials retrieved from off-season storage. Thanks to experience, the décor for each Christmas tree and each display is sorted and stowed in specified tubs. The Club’s rooms with a number of themed trees are completed by early afternoon that same day. One member who happened to drop in before and after this time remarked that it happened so fast it must have been done by elves. The name stuck, and now the Indoor Elves are a Christmas tradition in action on Callawassie Island.

It Takes a Tour to Tell the Story

Only a full tour of the Club could impart just how extensive this decorating work truly is. Greenery greets you from the front porch, along with lanterns and trees and wrapped packages. In the foyer stands the Children’s Tree, tall and narrow, hung with gingerbread and cookies, peppermint canes and ribbon candy, and standing on a carpet of snow. Beyond the tree, the grand stairway is arrayed with long-leaf pine and apples, and the landing displays dogwood branches, spruce, magnolia boughs, and pine, presented from a dramatic urn.

The magic continues through the Grill Room, where the theme of the tree is nature itself, and windows are adorned with swags of magnolia and pine. The Dogwood Room glows with the white-themed Winter Wonderland tree, sparkling with icicles, snowflakes, silver balls, and sparkly garland. The Elves say this is as close to snow as our island gets at Christmas.

The Palmetto Room offers the opposite, a Lowcountry vision of Christmas, where the tree is adorned with more than a hundred oyster shells. The Golf Shop tree favors “birdies” and plaid, along with island flora. Even the Fitness Center struts greenery and red ribbons, lighted with lanterns and silver, sea salt, and fairy lights. As the home of holiday parties held by residents and clubs, the Osprey and Heron meeting rooms are themed with the likenesses of our winged and feathered Callawassie Island residents and their environment.

Our coastal island home, with its rivers and beaches, sets the theme for Christmas décor at the River Club. Wreaths, ribbons, and shells are just the beginning of how one of the Islanders’ favorite spots are remembered fondly and decked out for the Christmas season.

Sharing a Certain Devotion

The home of Mike Anderson and family has become a must-see at Christmas on Callawassie Island. It wasn’t so much art or celebration that ignited the annual, decades-long, spectacular presentation that takes place at their home each year. Rather, it was Mike’s interest and devotion to technology. The distance between tech and spectacle might seem broad to those of us who simply string a few lights. To Mike, it was a natural progression from his first foray into Christmas lights, when he decorated his sailboat for a Christmas regatta, long ago in Virginia Beach.

From that beginning, it was the technology that kept Mike coming back bigger and bigger each year. Fast forward to today; his presentation comprises 5,000 lights, programmed through five controllers with 16 channels stemming from each controller and activating songs, characters, props, and scenes that glow and sparkle with LED lights. The lights themselves are more sophisticated than we might imagine. Their RGB-LED composition enables programs to blend the primary colors into any shade the design might call for.

“In the early days, I built my own controllers,” Mike said. “It’s not just what you see; it’s what’s behind it.” The dedication Mike has put into his annually-evolving displays is suggested by the fact that even with all his experience it takes ten to 16 hours to program the light and motion progressions of one song (there are 12 songs behind the display this year). “Because of the community sense here, it’s more enjoyable for us,” Mike said. “We start the displays on Thanksgiving, and the way people come around to enjoy it is like gathering around a campfire.” A visit to the Andersons’ at Christmastime is indeed a unique piece of Christmas on Callawassie Island, and an example of how the interests that make us who we are get shared, and connect us as a real community.

Warmth Becomes a Magnet

Warmth is the word that describes a Callawassie Island Christmas. The beauty that our residents discovered here has often become a magnet for their families, even for generations before and after the fortunate ones who found Callawassie Island and made their home here. Stories are told of parents buying their own place and moving here after just one Callawassie Island Christmas. And the examples abound of the power of Callawassie Island to gather families for the holidays, from across oceans, and even when the children are grown and in the busiest chapters of their own lives.

This magnetic quality unites us and draws our families to Callawassie Island. Christmas gives a colorful focus for that quality that is present throughout the entire year.