Weeks have all run together this fall and suddenly I myself past the build up and heading in to the grand crescendo of the Christmas season. If any of you have never been to Charleston, SC (a.k.a. the Holy City, US most polite city, Charm city, Chucktown) before I wanted to introduce you to our fair town, and bring you a little bit of Christmas In Charleston, with wrapping and bows bundling wishes for a very merry and memorable Holiday season to all of you.
Grab and egg nog, a hot chocolate, or Bailey’s, put your feet up and come join my family as we prepare for Christmas in Charleston.
Now if you are not familiar with Charleston, SC, it sits on the coast in the state of South Carolina in the US. Rich in our country’s history, it is known for its place in history, well-preserved architecture, distinguished restaurants, beaches and mannerly people.
Charleston was home for the wealthy plantation owners in America’s colonial time, where some 2000 mansions from that era still stand side by side on the waterfront. Battles have been fought on its shores in both the Revolutionary War and the War Between the States, where the first shot actually took place beginning our Civil War. Fort Wagner, made famous in the movie ‘Glory’, is on the banks of Charleston.
I have called Charleston home for the last 12 years and each Christmas season I look forward to many traditions in our ‘Charm City‘. So I wanted to offer you a glimpse to what our town looks like during the colorful and festive Holiday season.
1) One of the first things that sets off the month-long Holiday for me is the Art Walk through the French Quarter of Charleston. There is a strong cultural and art history in Charleston and quarterly the many Art Galleries open their doors the first Friday for the popular Art Walk.
Some 30 galleries, all with in walking distance, participate in this ‘roaming party’ that my friends lovingly call the ‘Art Crawl’. Each gallery offers a fine selection of finger foods and free wine. It is a chance to visit some of the homes and businesses downtown that you wouldn’t ordinarily visit. Many locals mingle and migrate throughout the downtown, going from gallery to gallery, turning the event into a roaming party. People dress to see and be seen, with the Christmas holiday adding an even more stylish flair to the event. When you are done you find yourself on foot among the many great restaurants downtown like McCrady’s, the Peninsula Grill, or Carolina’s, seducing you to make an entire evening of it. I love it!
2) But I can’t make it too late of a night as the next morning is the annual Reindeer Run 5K in downtown Charleston. This is a fun, festive, pet friendly, yet still competitive 5K race with the proceeds benefiting a local children’s hospital in Charleston. Runners are asked to run in their favorite holiday gear as they tear around the streets of Charleston’s peninsula.
The race starts and stops at a local brewery and BBQ smokehouse. Afterwards a street party takes place complete with games, jump castles, a live band as well as some tasty beverages to replace some lost fluids.
It a great way to have a lot of fun, for any runner and a different kind of Christmas party taking place on a Saturday morning.
3. Another favorite event of mine, Holiday chore list permitting, is Holiday Parade of Boats. Local, and not so local boat owners dress there personal yachts into brightly lit Christmas showpieces as they parade around the Charleston harbor from one end to the other.
Temperatures in Charleston are usually still inviting at this time of year to make this outdoor event do’able for the whole family. (Today it was a balmy 65F degrees)
4. Another favorite Holiday activity for me is the annual Charleston Strolls Holiday Walking Tour where guides take you around the stylishly decorated antebellum mansions downtown.
Like I mentioned earlier, Charleston can play home to some of the South’s mega rich. A downtown street, Broad Street, actually quasi divides the peninsula from the mega rich (actually called ‘SNOBS) to the disgustingly filthy rich on the tip of the Charleston peninsula. … Sadly I don’t live either places. I actually live several miles inland in a far more middle class and affordable zip code.
As you might imagine these families have the resources and taste to do some wonderful traditional Christmas decorations and a guided trip around the peninsula helps to point out the lights as well as some of the history behind the families that live there.
A funny story floated around town a few years ago where a new family had moved to the Charleston peninsula earlier in the year. At Christmas time they kept getting notes on their door from some of their neighboring peers.
It seems the style of wreath hung on their door simply wasn’t acceptable downtown and the ‘old blood’ locals were kindly suggesting that the newcomers change the wreath to the accepted style or remove it. Snobs indeed!
5. Even before we lived in Charleston we would make the drive to its historic Dock Street Theater to catch the Holiday showing of The Christmas Carol.
The Dock Street Theater was the first building in America designed for use as a theater, built in circa 1809. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.The popular cocktail ‘Planters Punch‘ is thought to have been created there, back when the theater catered to many of the Plantation owners in the area, prior to America’s Civil War.
This photo of Dock Street Theater is courtesy of TripAdvisor
The theater is smallish and quaint and yet well-preserved, to where there is simply not a bad seat in the house.The Dicken’s classic is always well done and can’t compare to similar versions on TV. It is an annual Christmas tradition here for all.
This photo of Dock Street Theater is courtesy of TripAdvisor
6. What is Christmas with out Christmas shopping? Downtown Charleston has one shopping district known as King Street. Among the many shops of King Street lay many of the local shops that carry practically anything.
Stores range from mom and pop convenience stores and eateries to large Macy’s, Banana Republic and many other high-end stores.
Three weeks prior to Christmas, King Street is closed off to traffic. A large Christmas tree and benches are placed in the middle of the district and free parking passes are distributed around the city.
If you want to do some Christmas shopping in the historic downtown King Street is the place to be, where you can find almost anything there…except…
7. One final destination our family does every year is the Holiday Festival Of Lights display found at the James Island County Park.
This is a three-mile trip around the park at night where no area is spared of some huge and magical display of lights. Many displays are sponsored by area businesses. The three-mile rotation probably takes close to an hour to complete.
When you are finished there are stores and shops in order to help you ‘stretch your legs’. And it wouldn’t be Christmas to our family if we didn’t get out and roast some marshmallows and bake some s’mores before we leave. It’s a great activity for the whole family!
So there are some my family’s favorite Christmas traditions here in Charleston. Certainly every one has their own set of favorites.
In trying to do my due-diligence for this post (steal some photos) I did some local research on Christmas traditions here in Charleston and found some interesting ones that I can totally buy into!
So if I haven’t lost you yet here are just a few more local Holiday traditions that have been preserved in our historic town over the years.
1. Often called Charleston’s signature dish, She Crab soup is an evolution of Scottish seafood bisque. (OMG! .. oh wait). I’m on a diet) A rich-in-flavor recipe that melds succulent blue crab meat with a hearty cream soup that is finished with a dash of dry sherry. The dish dates to the early 1700s. Synonymous with special occasions, She Crab soup often appears on local’s Christmas Day dinner menus.
I personally think any trip to a downtown Charleston restaurant is not complete without trying their version of the She Crab soup. We actually went about town one summer trying to decide exactly who had the best She Crab soup. Such a chore! Certainly any chilly Christmasy sightseeing night is not complete without a tasty bowl to warm you up. 2. Shrimp and Grits is a quintessential Charleston recipe. Originally served as a hardy breakfast during the plantation era, contemporary interpretations of the dish are popular for both brunch and supper—and especially during festive holiday gatherings.There is not a single restaurant downtown in the popular Culinary area that does not offer their interpretation of Shrimp and Grits
Thanks to Chef Frank Lee of Slightly North of Broad (SNOBs), who shares his favorite shrimp and grits recipe here! (Serves two) You can adopt this taste of Charleston as your own at your future holiday gatherings. 3. Historic Street Cecilia Punch. Formal balls, a revered social ritual in the past of Charleston, traditionally took place at Christmastime, when the plantation aristocracy historically arrived in town for debutante season. The custom of presenting a signature punch dates back to the 1700s, and many of the recipes—Planter’s Punch, Tradd Alley Punch and St. Cecilia Punch—remain the toast of contemporary parties.
If vintage cocktails are in vogue where you live, why not offer a centuries-old libation to your guests this holiday season? Click here for this ritzy recipe.
4. The Poinsettia, the flower affiliated with Christmas, is native to Mexico, but its geographical destiny came by a Charlestonian named Joel Roberts Poinsett.
In 1828, Poinsett was dispatched as the first ambassador to Mexico. The vibrant red flower of Mexico fascinated the amateur botanist, and he carried clippings home to the Charleston. After successfully cultivating the plant in his greenhouse, Poinsett began sharing the exotic flower with friends and family.
Today the “painted leaf” flower is synonymous with the Christmas season across the country and is officially celebrated every December 12th, the Congressionally designated National Poinsettia Day that commemorates Poinsett’s work.
So that is some Christmas in Charleston my friends. I hope you have the brightest of Christmas’s this year.
I invite you to share some of your favorite Holiday traditions or recipes here in the Comments. Or make a travel date and come down and share some with us in Charm City (CHS). Merry Christmas!
Thanks to ‘Christmas In Charleston’ web site for supplying many of the ideas, recipes and many of the pictures for this post.