The arrival of Thanksgiving and Christmas on Hatteras Island is when I internally take stock and recollect all the reasons why the islands are amazing during the holidays.
And inevitably, this leads my little mind to think about how I spent all my past holidays, and revisit the joys and tribulations of Christmases past.
And, I assure you, what a difference a decade or two makes.
Because when I think about my first holiday season, and all the awful gifts, weird dishes, and illegal activity that ensued, (more on that in a moment), I can’t help but feel that we modern locals are so lucky in ways that we don’t appreciate – or might not recall, thanks to years of egg nog-infused celebrations.
So here’s to the 2015 holiday season, and let’s ring in this occasion with a quick look back at how amazing and convenient Hatteras Island is today, as opposed to a decade or so ago.
It’s the time to be thankful, and when perusing the old memory bank, I am genuinely grateful that some old obstacles that used to be commonplace during a Hatteras Island winter are no longer in play. (Not trying to date myself, of course, although, honestly, I don’t think anyone will figure out by my articles that I’m 35, unless I do something stupid like put it in print.)
Anyhow, let’s get started on our modern reasons to be thankful.
CHRISTMAS TREE ACQUISITIONS
I don’t know what the statute of limitations is regarding disturbing National Park Service lands. As such, I will relay a completely third-person story about this chick I know, whose name I don’t remember, who spent her first holiday on Hatteras Island before Christmas trees were readily available.
Being an incredibly smart and precocious person, she assumed that the best course of action was to go into one of those miles-long stretches of uninhabited terrain in between Avon and Salvo and find her own tree to take home and adorn. Keep in mind, this woman – whom I personally don’t know – had no idea about NPS laws and regulations.
Well as luck would have it, she found this amazing 5-foot tall tree that was already somehow cut and on its last legs, and she easily piled it into her Jeep and headed home. (Good thing, too, because I have it on good authority that she had no earthly idea how to use a chainsaw.)
Now, this was the epitome of a Charlie Brown tree, with enough branches for about five ornaments, but it was, nevertheless, a prized addition to the girl’s home, because she now had an actual Christmas tree in her Avon beach house. (Yes, she lived in Avon too – a complete coincidence, I assure you.)
The thing she didn’t realize is that trees that are gathered from the wild typically come with unexpected “attachments.” Like ants. And moths. And also ticks.
As a result, the free festive tree cost about $80 in vet bills and pet solutions, as well as an extra $150 on exterminator costs. (Again, so I heard.)
But today, we can all avoid a costly lesson on the topic of “Why you don’t bring wild trees into your house” by simply going to the Food Lion parking lot, or to one of the up-start tree stands, and bringing home our own Griswold-approved tree at a minimal cost – and sans insect-related plagues or inadvertent illegal activity to boot.
Thank goodness for the future!
LAZY CHEF BENEFITS
So I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 20 years. And for some reason, this makes me think that it is my ongoing obligation to make carnivores discover that veggie-based dishes are just as good as, say, bacon, or steaks, or lobster.
Yeah, I am realizing this is a stupid venture too.
But, somehow, this has never stopped me from trying to create the “perfect” side dishes to accompany any holiday meal – dishes that will steal the spotlight from the turkey, or the ham, or the turducken, and will shine a light on what an amazing chef I truly am.
Only problem? I’m an awful cook.
You know those people who take perfectly great and standard recipes like “mashed potatoes” or “apple pie” and try to make them healthy, to the outrage of their loved ones and guests? Yep, I’m one of those jerks.
But even when I infused my side dishes with a full stick of butter, or a bag of brown sugar, or every meatless fatty substance I could think of, my holiday fare still tasted pretty awful.
And when this happened, I usually watched as my guests generously said, “Wow! This is good, I’m just… so full right now…” and then abandoned their plate for a second helping of turducken.
Well, you know what has happened since my first decade of absolutely horrible cooking? Amazing deli counters.
That’s right – today, I can go to Conner’s, Burrus Red and White, or even the Fresh Market up the beach and purchase all the yummy side dishes I want. And then I can shamelessly re-package them by heating them up in my cookware to make it look like I was personally responsible for their creation.
Is this crass? Is it cheating? And is this even lying? You betcha. But I promise that even if our guests figure it out, they will deftly avoid mentioning it, for fear of ever eating my cooking again.
You’re welcome. And happy holidays to us all.
HOLIDAY SHOPPING WITHOUT PUTTING PANTS ON
Now, I need to preface this by saying I adore holiday shopping on Hatteras Island.
I have so many people in my life who love island-themed gifts, and I love that I can get them unique treasures that can’t be found anywhere else. This is all thanks to a multitude of businesses that now stay open throughout the holidays and allow shoppers like me to enjoy a full Saturday of Christmas shopping without stress, or lines, or crowds – it’s essentially just a fun day of going to my favorite on-island stores.
It’s truly bliss, and it boosts the ol’ holiday spirit, and I recommend it to everybody.
But with that being said, on my first Christmas on Hatteras Island, I ran into two problems. 1) Not many stores were open in the winter at that time and 2) Online shopping wasn’t really a thing yet.
So I did what any frantic stupid person would do, and drove to Norfolk. And man, what a mess that was!
I recall standing in a line at Circuit City — I’m old, remember? — that reached the back of the store, and that consisted solely of scowling people who signed on for the 20-person deep line only because they absolutely had to be there. Trust me – if any of those people could have ducked the line and escaped criticism and sad Christmas mornings, they would have. But like me, they were forced to stand in line for an hour to make sure they didn’t look stupid when it came to gift giving. Ho, ho, ho.
So the second year I spent on Hatteras Island, I decided to go the “homemade route” and create perfect, Martha Stewart-worthy gifts that would inevitably become treasured additions to future holiday celebrations for decades to come.
Only problem? I am totally awful at crafts.
And after hours of burning myself multiple times with a glue gun trying to affix paper-thin ribbons to scallops in a vain effort to create “Christmas ornaments,” I decided this was not the way to go.
This decision was affirmed when I presented the better of my whacked-out ornaments to friends and family members as gifts, and they asked me if my nephew, or some undisclosed love child they didn’t know about yet, had made them.
Fun Fact: My brother had a similar experience, and he softened the inevitable self-esteem blow by scrawling “BY TIMMY, AGE 33” on the back of his handmade ornaments in perfect, kindergarten-esque penmanship. It was awesome.
So, essentially, my first few years on Hatteras Island were a personal dilemma of whether I should get good gifts with great personal sacrifice, or get bad gifts, but have the ability to drink wine while playing with a glue gun.
And you youngsters have no idea how awesome it is that this is no longer the case.
My favorite local stores are now open for the holidays, making Christmas shopping for my smart, beach-loving friends and loved ones an easy and completely relaxing venture.
And for everyone else, I can just go online and purchase away. Online shopping has made it easy for me to look for stuff like “Washington Redskins pink flamingos” and “bacon boxer shorts” without ever feeling awkward about disclosing how really weird my friends and family are.
So enjoy your holiday shopping, fellow islanders. There’s no need to participate in Black Friday fights, or join the bleak crowds at the mall – because everything you’ll need is either in your backyard, or available on your computer. (Just don’t have a couple of beers beforehand. I’ve bought some odd and unintended stuff that way.)
I suppose I could go on, and rave about the benefits of having so many events happening during the holidays, or having so many restaurants open during the off-season, which is a perfect last resort for bad chefs like me.
But I do believe every local has caught on to the fact that their holidays simply get more convenient year after year. From local stores to Christmas tree vendors, modern island living has its obvious benefits.
With that being said, however, my favorite and time-tested aspects of an island holiday haven’t changed at all. I still enjoy an abundance of friends stopping by — now that we all have time. I still get to look at crazy coastal-inspired holiday lights, and I still get to start Thanksgiving and Christmas Day with a walk on the beach. Not a bad tradition at all, in my humble opinion.
So let’s embrace our technological advances, and hold onto our traditions, while looking forward to what the future will bring. The great thing is, that on Hatteras Island, the underlying holiday spirit and gregariousness will never change.
Unless drones delivering packages is involved in the future. Does that mean I’ll have to put on pants to shop? Cause I don’t want to sign up for that.
(Joy Crist and her husband are home for the holidays at their house in Avon — and they intend to stay for a while.)