Christmas On The Islands
November 13, 2013

Why I miss Hatteras Island Christmas:
An ode to bad attire and ingenuity with Christmas lights


So it has been nearly a year since I decided to live full-time in a non-Hatteras Island locale, and yet the reasons why island life is superior keep making themselves crystal clear, despite the obvious benefits of being a North Carolina highlander. For example, if we get saltwater flooding at 2,300 feet above sea level, at least we’ll know we were the last ones left.. (Also, did I mention there’s a Taco Bell 20 minutes away?)

But Christmas and the holidays are a particularly difficult time to be away from home, because if you’re anything like me, it can be very hard to find a community that accepts your overall oddness, your poor choice of parade costumes, and your inappropriately obscene, albeit not intentionally so, Christmas light displays.

Granted, there are some personal Hatteras Island Christmas traditions that can’t be tempered by location alone.  For example, I will always adorn my tree with seashells secured with twine, paper clips, or dental floss, always spend a portion of Christmas morning fishing, and always engage in online Christmas shopping for the majority of my holiday purchases. (After all, once you’ve done your Christmas shopping sans pants, it’s hard to go back.)

But, with that being said, there are a few holiday experiences that I will happily list in detail and that have been instrumental to maintaining my fond memories of Hatteras Island. They serve as the cornerstone as to why Christmas on Hatteras Island is better than any other place on earth -- regardless of proximity to Taco Bell.

An unprecedented attitude toward snow

Allow me to let you in on a little secret about Hatteras Islanders. They don’t get snow very often obviously, but when they do, they really know how to turn it into a good time!

As a daughter of New England, my childhood experience with snow is basically a very dull memory of building a standard snowman -- complete with neon pink winter garments I was purposely trying to ruin so I wouldn’t have to wear them anymore, dozens of wet boots, and a ridiculous amount of shoveling the driveway.

Winter -- and snow in particular -- was never “fun” when I was growing up. It was simply a catalyst for destroying whatever ugly winter attire my mom had purchased for me at Walmart and also a fabulous introduction for my parents on the legal ways to utilize child labor.

So, imagine my surprise when during the first big winter storm I encountered as a Hatteras Island resident in 2003, everyone I knew was not dour or sighing or sneakily hatching out new plans to dispose of their unfashionable winter gear.

Oh, no!  Instead I was greeted with neighborhood yards filled with snowmen in grass skirts with fishing poles, kids running around in heavy-duty jackets and board shorts, and slightly-intoxicated adults skidding down deserted side streets on surfboards attached to pick-ups, in a new sport informally deemed “snow surfing.” (Please note: You should not try this at home.  But if you do, holy cow, it’s a blast -- not that I would know first-hand or anything.)

When another winter snowfall landed on the island less than a decade later, it was more of the same – everyone was grinning, playing outside, snow surfing, building island-appropriate snowmen, and throwing snowballs at oncoming local traffic just for the heck of it. (Okay, maybe it was just me for that last part, but you get the drift.)

So essentially one of the major things I miss about Hatteras Island is its fantastic inherent ability to have fun in otherwise normal and dreary winter circumstances. Who knew how much fun a typical snowfall was? Who knew that you could add Bailey’s Irish Cream to snow and make a tasty drink called “snow cream?” And who knew that such a concoction would make throwing snowballs at your neighbors’ passing vehicles so much fun?

Yes, when a hurricane hits, it is serious business getting back to normal, but in the winter months when a little unanticipated snowfall is your biggest concern, Hatteras Island weather is a pure joy.

Ingenuity with Christmas lights

Just as the sight of a snowman with a pampas grass skirt and a Hawaiian lei induces a smile, so does the spectacular display of Christmas lights that a few leftover fishing supplies and a winter’s worth of boredom can create.

In fact, it became a tradition of sorts for my fiancÚ and me to drive around the island and admire the yards and waterfronts of our neighbors to see what fabulous holiday light scenes they were able to create. The best are always the homes that use fishing and boats to stand out -- and I’m looking at you, Kinnakeet Shores house with the cool boat-and-fish-being-reeled-in motif. However, any flash of color will always do.

The best honors, naturally, go to those folks with crab pots who stack them up in Christmas-tree style towers and then loop Christmas lights throughout the metal chicken coop structures to make them glow. I imagine this is an undertaking and is even more frustrating when the weather warms up and the owners have to actually use the crab pots for fishing and stuff. (Although for all I know, maybe they leave the crab pots strewn with the bright purple, blue, red and green flashing lights, as crabs can’t resist an underwater flashy disco environment. Hey, it sounds attractive to me.)

Anyways, I always tried to do my best to add to the coastal light display with a bit of flair that was instilled by my dad.

It was always his goal to create a light display similar to the Griswolds in National Lampoon’s “Christmas Vacation,” except far more obnoxious and tackier, and I tried my best to follow in this time-honored family tradition.

As a result, over the years, I have attempted to create an anchor outline across the two decks of my house. It ended up looking kind of phallic-shaped and is, therefore, unsuitable for sharing or publication.  It also had three different strands of 10-way flashing lights that most likely induced seizures for my poor neighbor, and we had an electric bill that was twice as high as was appropriate, even by Hatteras Island standards.

I feel like I should take a moment to explain the “anchor” lights to unsuspecting fellow sight-sightseers like myself. At the time, I did not know that the cheap lights I had selected to take up the right and left “anchor” parts of my display were not very bright, leaving me with the main structure of the “anchor,” which, yes, because of my design techniques and the placement of the porches,could have been misconstrued as something slightly obscene. I would have taken this down, but I was lazy.

Glad that’s all cleared up.

And now that I think about it, as sad as I am about leaving, I have an inkling that my neighbors had a block party minutes after my U-Haul left the driveway.

Regardless, the point is that I am always proud of how Hatteras islanders use the supplies at hand to come up with some ingenious methods of showing their Christmas spirit. Whether it’s having a boat outlined with Christmas lights sitting in front of a Kinnakeet Shores lake, or a tower of crab pots serving as the ultimate crustacean night club, Hatteras Islanders just celebrate with style.

A boatload of holiday spirit!

I do believe there are very few places in the world where you can cover your ill-fitting yoga pants in metallic blue paint, hot glue a paper snowflake to your head, and get applauded when you walk down the street while waving at curious onlookers. In fact, in most communities, I think this series of actions would most likely get you committed.

Thank goodness for Hatteras Island.

As you may have guessed, this spectacle, -- which I did engage in -- was part of the annual Hatteras Village Christmas Parade.

Now, as a lone snowflake, I was a sorry sight. As you may have guessed by my inadvertent obscene Christmas lights, I am not the most crafty or artsy of people, so when I spray painted my pants, spread Elmer’s glue and glitter all over an old light blue sweater, and tried to create a snowflake that looked more like an illiterate series of Egyptian hieroglyphics, my ensuing costume did not resemble anything holiday related. At all.

But stationed next to a dozen other local realty company employees who knew what they were doing costume-wise and armed with a bag of candy I could throw out to people at will, I was suddenly just one of a dozen snowflakes, all parading through Hatteras village to entertain and all take part in an incredible celebration of community spirit.

The Hatteras Village Christmas Parade is awesome.

This is not only because it’s an event in which weirdoes like me can shine in their metallic-fat-yoga-pants glory, but because it’s an event that gets everyone on the island in one location to cheer, have fun, and celebrate the incredible season that brings us crab pot Christmas trees and snow surfing.

There’s something remarkable about Hatteras Island, especially during the holidays, which is hard to explain but which basically comes down to appreciating and celebrating the weird but awesome folks who make up your community.

I have a sneaking suspicion that in another locale, I would have been politely asked to not participate in the Christmas Parade, because of my limited supplies accumulated from the back of my closet and ACE Hardware. Also, I would probably have to file a police report or two based on my inherent love of snow surfing, and the, ah, inappropriate nature of my Christmas lights, regardless of the original intention. (What a fascinating COPS episode that would be!)

But one of my favorite things about Hatteras Island is that “put-up-with-others” attitude, -- a definite plus for someone like me -- and the willingness to make the best of any bad situation, whether it’s an unexpected snowfall or a parade participant dressed like a fourth-rate drag queen.

There’s always an optimism on Hatteras Island, which is even more pronounced during the holidays, that will make even the biggest Christmas Scrooge shrug and help himself to a big helping of snow cream -- or a margarita in dire circumstances-- and that’s why my home is especially wonderful during Christmas.

(Joy Crist and her fiancÚ are spending time at their newly purchased property in the mountains of North Carolina, though she insists she will be back on Hatteras one of these days – maybe for the annual Christmas Parade. Meanwhile, she may occasionally write about island life from her new perspective.

This year’s Hatteras Village Christmas Parade is Saturday, Dec. 14.)

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