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Dec 27, 2021

Merry & Bright: These local events and people are spreading Christmas cheer in the Lowcountry

Celebrate Hilton Head Magazine

Photography By

M.KAT Photography
There isn’t a more festive time in the Lowcountry than right now. Immediately after Halloween, Hilton Head Island and Bluffton explode with festivals, parades and holiday happenings that are sure to melt even the coldest Grinch heart. On the following pages, we share a few of our favorite things to do this time of year and tip our hats to the people behind the festivities.

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Mr. & Mrs. Santa Claus
Joe and Susan Patton
For 15 years, Joe and Susan Patton have been ringing in the season on Hilton Head Island as Mr. & Mrs. Claus. What started as a favor to their daughter Jennifer (proprietor of Artware) and a marketing effort to bring in holiday shoppers has become a tradition for them and certainly hundreds (thousands?) of kids and families every year.

Their season of guest appearances kicked off last month with the lighting of the Arts Center Christmas tree and Hudson’s Community Thanksgiving dinner. You can find them most Friday and Saturday nights, posing for photos in their sleigh and bringing holiday cheer to Shelter Cove Towne Centre.

The C2 crew stopped by for a quick chat with Mr. & Mrs. Claus and, as expected, Mrs. Claus had baked some chocolate chip cookies for our arrival.

C2: What is the craziest thing a child has ever asked for from Santa?
Joe: Peace on Earth. There have been a few solemn children who have asked me to get their mommy and daddy back being friends with each other. Many requests for the Xbox, Legos, and cell phones. Even the little kids—they all want a cell phone. Sometimes they’ll ask for a puppy, or a kitty … and we make sure they’ve checked with their parents first before granting those requests.
Susan: We get requests for all the normal stuff, but every now and then someone will ask for a helicopter.

C2: What is your favorite part about playing this special role every year?
Joe: It’s talking to the kids and hearing how many of them say that they are doing a lot at home to help the family.
CH2: Do you think they’re lying?
Susan: Some of them (laughing). I think what I enjoy most is the babies who are so cute and smiling and laughing, and then as soon as they get put on Joe’s lap, they lose it.
Joe: There have been a lot of children we’ve watched grow up. They come back and get their photo with Santa Claus every year.
Susan: The same Santa Claus. That’s important.

Where to find Mr. & Mrs. Claus:

December 3, 5-7 p.m.
Island Rec Center’s Winter Wonderland Festival
Shelter Cove Towne Centre

December 4, 12-2 p.m.
Pet Photos with Santa
Hilton Head Humane Association (10 Humane Way)

December 4, 5-7 p.m.
Shelter Cove Towne Centre

December 10 & 11 5-7 p.m.
Shelter Cove Towne Centre

December 17, 5-7 p.m.
Shelter Cove Towne Centre

December 17, 7:30 p.m.
Providence Christmas Walk

December 18, 2-4 p.m.
Leamington Parade

December 18, 5-7 p.m.
Shelter Cove Towne Centre

December 18, 7:30 p.m.
Providence Christmas Walk

December 18, 10:30 a.m.
Providence Christmas Message

Friday, December 24, 12-2 p.m.
Shelter Cove Towne Centre

Jeff Hunt
Dunes Real Estate

Giving away Christmas bikes to kids is kind of Jeff Hunt’s thing. He’s been doing it for almost 30 years now (15 years in Charlotte and 15 years in the Lowcountry). This year, that number of donated bicycles is 300, with 100 each going to Antioch Education Center, Deep Well and the Boys & Girls Club of Bluffton.

C2: How has this grown over the years?
Jeff Hunt: I was just kind of doing it quietly for a while, and then one of my fellow real estate agents, Mark Lynch, found out and wanted to get involved. “These kids are going to need helmets, right?” he said. So, then it morphed into a “pass the hat” sort of event at the Dunes Real estate office, with everyone chipping in a bit. Now we get thousands of dollars donated towards the helmets, and the number of bikes we donate has gone from 100 to 300. It’s been amazing. I have a client who found out about it and sent me check for $500. What Mark kind of taught me with that was to ask for help. There are so many people who want to help and be involved. Kelly Sterling, Linda Warnock and the admin team put together a nice little piece on bike safety (in English and Spanish) to go with the bikes.

C2: Why those specific charities?
Jeff Hunt: The bulk of what you do for them gets used by the people who need it. That’s the biggest thing for me. We live on Hilton Head Island where the perception is everyone lives in a million dollar home and life is wonderful, but that’s just not the case. There is need here in every community. One teenage girl received one of our bikes and was able to use it as transportation to a job. She starts making a few bucks, saves enough to take some classes at USCB. She did so well, she got a scholarship, was able to take more classes and ended up graduating. And it all started with transportation to a job. Her family only had one car, so they couldn’t take her to work. It’s amazing the little things you can do for people that make a big difference.

C2: What is your favorite holiday movie Jeff?
Jeff Hunt: The Polar Express. One year when my wife and I were still dating, they were showing it outside in Sea Pines, and we were the only two people watching because it was freezing. About 30 minutes later, there were probably 50 people there. Everyone saw us sitting there and decided to join. I have really great memories of that.

Hartland & Sterling Welcome you to “Ernieville”

The first Christmas Village Hartland Monahan’s dad ever assembled was in 1950. The festive tiny houses took up just one little alcove in their Montreal apartment. A few years later, the family moved to the suburbs, and with more room to be had, Ernie Monahan expanded his village to encompass an entire spare room. “People in the neighborhood would always stop by to see it,” remembers Hartland, Ernie’s son.

Ernie passed away a few years ago, and the future of Ernieville was unclear. That was until Sterling, Heartland’s granddaughter, expressed an interest in carrying on the tradition, all the way down South on Hilton Head Island. Now, the duo is preparing the village in its new location in the Waterwalk Apartments lobby. There are over 100 figurines doing fun “wintry things” like ice skating, skiing, shopping and gathering around the Christmas tree in the center of town. “We are approaching 100 buildings as well,” remarked Hartland as he looked down at the miniature model he had built exclusively for his shoot in this magazine.

This most spectacular of tiny Christmas Villages will be on display (free of charge) from December 7-January 2 (9 a.m.-5p.m.) in the lobby of the Waterwalk apartments near Shelter Cove Town Centre. It’s open to the public, and if you are so inclined, bring a canned good or donation for Deep Well or St. Jude’s.

Sarah Perry & Lauren McAvoy
Branches in the Village at Wexford

C2: When did Branches first open, and has Christmas always been as big as an event for the girls as it is now?
Branches opened in the summer of 1995; and, oh yes, the holiday season has always been a big bru-ha-ha for the Branches family!

C2: How many wreaths are created for Christmas each year at Branches?
Ohhh, trying to count that would be like trying to count the number of stars in the sky. Or the number of scratches on our arms from designing & lugging holiday decor. Or the number of glasses of wine we drink to get through all the Christmas mania. Ha!

C2: How many houses/retail areas are decorated by Branches … and what are some of the well-known ones?
We’ve done a host of residential jobs in years past, but in recent years we’ve turned our attention to our corporate clients during the holidays. We go all out with Hampton Lake, TidePointe, and of course at our “home-base” of The Village at Wexford!

What the Sarah and Lauren’s favorite Christmas movies?
Sarah: Toss-up between Charlie Brown Christmas or The Grinch.
Lauren: Miracle on 34th Street
Basically, these cover all our emotions during the holiday season. 😉

Is Christmas the favorite holiday for you? If not, which holidays do you like best?
At Branches, Christmas and the winter holiday season is THE “Super Bowl” of our year; so, of course we’ve grown to look forward to it every year (and making it bigger and better)! Thanksgiving is also a fun time for our family as it’s a nice pause during our busy season. We love having fun in little ways at the shop for all the various holidays—even the silly internet ones that are fun to play along and celebrate! (National Wine Day, anyone?)

Has Branches always been in the Village at Wexford … and if not, where were they first and when did they move?
We moved to The Village at Wexford 15 years ago, but the shop was originally located in a little cottage off of Palmetto Bay Road. We still have lots of long-time clients after 26 years who remember our first little shop with lots of fun memories!

Is the holiday open house always the first weekend in November? Is it two or three days of madness?
Depends on several factors (the way the calendar falls, market trends, global health events and/or natural disasters that shan’t be named, etc.), but typically it’s in the early- to mid-part of November and lasts two days. However, the actual “madness” begins when we start getting in Christmas and holiday inventory in late summer. We’re secretly glad people are starting to get in the holiday spirit earlier lately because we’re certainly ready to GO by the first of November!

John Carlyle & Karena Brock-Carlyle
The duo behind Hilton Head Dance’s The Nutcracker, a tradition for over 35 years.

How many years have you been putting on The Nutcracker on Hilton Head Island?
We performed our first production of The Nutcracker in 1985. All our dancers are already thinking about the parts they get to dance next year. The Nutcracker is not only a tradition, but also inevitable.

Tell us an interesting story about the very first production.
The Nutcracker has evolved over the years. In the first production, we had the misguided notion that five-year-olds, as the Toy Soldiers, and six-year-olds, as the Mice, would be adorable. And they were … until they met each other in costume onstage. The Toy Soldiers took one look at the Mice and ran for their lives. The Mice took one look at a life-size Nutcracker armed with a sword and did the same. It wasn’t a battle scene. It was chaos. The next year, we found roles for those age groups in the much safer Land of Sweets.

We are assuming you have both have played various roles in the production over the years. What are your favorite parts to play?
Whenever Karena and I walk into a restaurant together and are faced with empty tables, she always asks me where I would like to sit. I always answer, “With you.” Thus, if Karena’s favorite role is Sugar Plum, mine is her Cavalier. (My second favorite role is the Mouse King, because, hey … it’s always more fun to be the bad guy.)

How many local kids were in this year’s production?
We always lose count. Over the years we have brought in few guest artists. Almost all our dancers are trained at our school. The number of home-grown talented dancers and families that have made this ballet a tradition is somewhere in the thousands. Musicians joke that dancers can only count in eights. So, eight thousand?

Has it always been held at the high school theater?
Our first production was at the Community Playhouse on Dunnagan’s Alley. We moved to the Arts Center when it opened. It was a difficult decision to move from that beautiful theater, but the Seahawk offers more space backstage for this mammoth production, and a larger audience with continental seating for optimal sight lines. I’d like to make a prediction for 2022: The Nutcracker will be performed at the Seahawk Cultural Center the two weekends before Thanksgiving.

Dianne Reynolds
Bluffton Christmas Parade

In 1971 Bluffton Mayor Grady Messex called Dianne Reynolds out of the blue and said, “With all your friends at church and your husband being a judge, you know a lot of people. Do you think you could get a parade going?”
“A parade!?” Dianne said. “So, I went to the post office the next day and I ran into Ms. Miriam Brown and asked her if she would help me.”

Bluffton’s inaugural Christmas parade consisted of Mayor Messex in a convertible, marching Cub Scouts (Dianne’s sons were in the Cub Scouts), six young people wearing boxes draped in wrapping paper like presents, some singing ladies from church, a horse-riding Mr. Hodge, and the Grand Marshall Wilton Graves, who was in the House of Representatives at the time.

That procession, put together by Judge Cecil Reynold’s wife back in 1971, is back again, only this time with 150 floats, multiple Santas, and insanely hilarious costumes. It will be attended by thousands of people on December 4 at 10 a.m.

“Someone called it the most eccentric parade in the United States, and we are proud to hold onto that title,” laughed Bluffton’s current Mayor Lisa Sulka.
This year, however, the Grand Marshall will be Dianne Reynolds. And we think that’s pretty fitting for the parade’s fiftieth anniversary.

Hilton Head Preparatory School’s Festival of Trees
The Sonesta Resort
November 19-December 4

Since 1985, the Festival of Trees has been a holiday tradition in the Lowcountry. Although its location has changed several times throughout its 30-plus-year run, the mission has stayed the same: to raise money for Hilton Head Prep’s Scholarship Fund. Over 165 items (festively decorated wreaths, Christmas trees, swag, and more) will be on display at the Sonesta Resort through December 4. The HHHP parent-run committee starts work on this event in August, and it takes a mountain of volunteers to get everything set up by the week before Thanksgiving.

Hilton Head Prep purchases the trees, and different local businesses and organizations decorate them. During a two-week period, they are on display and available for purchase at the Sonesta Resort. It’s a beautiful community event and a lovely way to spend an evening out with a glass of wine or two, perusing everyone’s creativity. Stand-outs this year include a Toy Story-themed tree, a flock of flamingos pulling a pink Barbie car loaded with presents, and a Pickleball-themed fir. There are special evening appearances by carolers, Santa Claus, Hilton Head Prep’s Jazz band, St. Gregory’s choir and more as the weeks progress.

If you’re interested in participating in this event next year by decorating a tree, reach out to Margot Brown at

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