Amid the hustle of the holidays, there is a moment when Christmas happens. It may be the sounds of carolers in the neighborhood that suddenly lifts the heart, the arrival home of a loved one from far away, or the jingle of bells and the twinkle of lights seen and heard on city streets. Or it could happen as you cross over the Ashley River bridge onto Spring Street and into the heart of this magical city. Look over at the Holiday Farmers Market at Marion Square where the razzle, dazzle Christmas spirit permeates the air. Christmas “fa-la-la” is everywhere; kids tugging on Santa’s beard, tables laden with salt-misted Brussel sprouts still on the stalk, turnips, kale, and spinach. The raw, damp chill of the ocean is a reminder of what it must have been like in early colonial America when residents were sent scurrying back to their houses to snuggle around eighteenth-century coal-burning fireplaces.
Holiday enchantment awaits in unexpected ways. It might be the throngs of wacky shoppers dressed in their “ugly Christmas sweaters,” or the trays of cookies doused in powdered sugar that remind you of your grandmother’s “nut fingers.” Christmas is a potent blend of magical thinking and tangible, sensual reality. Now is the time to believe in angels, twinkling stars, and goodwill to all.
Everything is here to make the holidays bright; gourmet foods, arts and crafts, home accessories, and jewelry. You are sure to leave with bags and bags of treasure and visions of sugarplums dancing in your head.
Lace up your walking shoes and grab your favorite holiday scarf and head down King Street to immerse yourself in Charleston’s history and holiday spirit with a seasonal holiday walking tour. Stroll your way down cobblestone streets into the holiday spirit as you peer beyond the doors of private residences, marvel at how the storied homes deck the halls with heirloom decorations and discover the history behind Charleston’s most beloved holiday traditions passed down from generation to generation. You’d be hard-pressed to find a private residence that takes their holiday decor as seriously as the Joseph Manigault House, 350 Meeting Street, and the result is stunning. Built in 1803, this is an antebellum masterpiece with a towering spiral staircase wrapped around a crystal chandelier. View magnificent live decorations throughout the home from plant materials that are historically accurate to what would have been available in the early 1800s.
Pay a visit to the Aiken-Rhett House to enjoy a dazzling display of Victorian Christmas decorations featuring trees with all the trimmings. Enjoy an evening on the Battery discovering the Edmondston-Alston House by candlelight and listening to the sounds of the Charleston Caroling Company. Then, warm up in the courtyard with a glass of hot cider and listen to Gullah Christmas stories told by a local storyteller.
For an unforgettable evening, head over to the festively decorated Circular Congregational Church downtown at 150 Meeting Street for a candlelight performance of “The Holiday Edition” of The Sound of Charleston, where you hear George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess,” gospel spirituals, jazz, light classics and music of the Civil War and holiday classics.
Just a short distance away at 51 Meeting Street is the Nathaniel Russell House with a dining room table laden with sugared fruits, cakes and sweetmeats – all popular fare of the early 1800s, when religious service and family meals were the crux of holiday celebrations.
You may want to take a culinary walking tour and combine yuletide history featuring stories of Charleston’s Christmases past with stops by the Historic District’s most festive lounges for a signature holiday cocktail.
If you are in the mood for a nautical holiday adventure there’s even a Sandlapper water tour. Relax in the glow of a golden sunset with a warm cup of hot chocolate in your hands. History and beauty abound on this spectacular ride.
Drayton Hall is a magnificent 18th-century plantation dressed up for the holidays just a little north of the city on the Ashley River. It’s well worth the short drive. It’s America’s oldest unrestored plantation and truly a must-see. If you want to linger awhile, the candlelight tour is spectacular.
All is calm, all is bright walking South of the Broad at night with the clear Christmas lights matching the twinkle of stars in the dark sky above. Wreaths and garlands of cedar and pine tied up with red bows on piazzas and doorways signal the arrival of this most wonderful time of the year. Notice the fruit boards above doorways, camellias in bloom, calamondin oranges and persimmons turning ripe orange. “Popcorn berry” wreaths from the Chinese Tallow tree adorn wrought iron gates, the work of art by the Gullah ladies who sell them at the Four Corners of Law at Broad and Meeting Streets. All is well. All seems right with the world; for on these dark streets shineth The Everlasting Light. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Him tonight.