We’re not sure why Christmas lights are a thing, but it doesn’t really matter because they’re cool, and things that are cool don’t need an explanation. They just are.
Anyone who has lived on Hilton Head Island for a while still remembers the magic of Dove Street lighting up the holidays. The Dove Street lights went dim several years ago, but they are back this year in a new location.
Founders of the original festival collaborated with Shelter Cove Towne Center to recreate the cherished holiday event. There are also a few other great spots around the Lowcountry where the same kind of twinkling magic can be seen all through the month of December.
So grab a Thermos of hot chocolate, pile the kids in the car, cue up some holiday tunes and head to these makeshift winter wonderlands. Trust us — it’s cool.
Dove Street Festival of Lights, Shelter Cove Towne Centre:
Lights on: Dec. 1 until Jan. 4
How bright: Park your car and gather under the canopy of thousands of lights.
Why it’s cool: What started as a quaint neighborhood festival transformed into one of the community’s most loved, attended and supported holiday events. The neighborhood decided to pull the plug on the event four years ago after it outgrew its Dove Street location. Now, the tradition is back. Store fronts will represent Dove Street homes.
Special feature: Visitors will be able to gain entrance to the festival through both the Kroger and Belk sides of Towne Centre. The Deep Well Project and Programs for Exceptional People will be accepting donations onsite.
Town of Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue Station 3 (534 William Hilton Parkway):
Lights on: Nov. 28 until just after New Year’s Day
How bright: 900 bundles of lights and animated light displays
Why it’s cool: You can drive through the fire station’s wonderland of lights in a loop around the station itself. “It is over the top. We have a little ice skating rink scene, a manger scene, Christmas trees, several wreaths,” said Cinda Seamon, fire and life safety educator for Hilton Head Fire & Rescue. “Kids love it and grown-ups love it. That’s why we keep doing it.”
Special feature: Keep The Wreath Green, an 8-foot wreath loaded with green lights greets visitors who enter the light display loop. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, every time there is a preventable fire on Hilton Head — accidents due to candles, cooking and space heaters are more common this time of year — one of the green lights will be switched to white. “It’s really just to remind people about fire safety,” Seamon said. “A success story would be if the wreath remains green the whole season.”
Jim and Carolyn Neely’s house, Port Royal Plantation (seen from U.S. 278 across from Hilton Head Fire & Rescue Station 3):
Lights on: Nov. 27-Jan. 3
How bright: Nearly 40,000 white and colored lights
Why it’s cool: You can see the Neelys’ house, which is completely outlined in white lights, right from U.S. 278, which eliminates the hassle of trying to enter a gated community to get your holiday light fix. “Everyone thinks that the holiday season begins when the Neelys turn on their lights,” said Carolyn Neely.
Special feature: When Jim and Carolyn Neely moved to Hilton Head Island 18 years ago, their son, James, was 3 years old. That first Lowcountry Christmas, Jim outlined the house in white lights and decorate three trees in the backyard in honor of James. They’ve added one tree each year, which means this holiday season 21 trees around the Neelys’ Port Royal Plantation backyard will be illuminated. “This year, we’ve got a big oak tree close to the house that we’re going to do red, white and blue,” Neely said.
Lights on: Nov. 28-Jan. 1
How bright: 30-foot Christmas tree and two dozen animated light displays
Why it’s cool: Stroll along the harbor and enjoy the illuminated seasonal figures, with the centerpiece of the display being a towering 30-foot Christmas tree. Harbour Town has live holiday-centric entertainment and activities scheduled throughout the month, so go to www.seapines.com/events or contact The Sea Pines Resort Recreation Department at 843-842-1979 so you can schedule your holiday light viewing at the same time as a Santa visit or an outdoor Christmas movie.
Special feature: Bring a canned good or two, or a new unwrapped child’s toy, and drop them in the well by the Liberty Oak stage to donate to The Deep Well Project. Since 1973, the nonprofit, volunteer-based Deep Well has been serving the basic needs of the less fortunate on Hilton Head.
The Brendlens’ Lowcountry Christmas (1570 Driggers Lane in Ridgeland):
Lights on: Nov. 30-Jan. 2
How bright: 80,000-100,000 lights and other displays
Why it’s cool: Chelsea Brendlen and her husband, Barry, have been lighting up their home in Ridgeland for more than 15 years. They add more displays every year, and this year is no exception. “This year, we’re adding a Santa and three reindeer, an animated snowman bowling penguins, a fire truck and a big arch that goes over the driveway with Santa, a snowman and a reindeer waving at you as you come in,” said Chelsea Brendlen. There is even a virtual Santa in one of the windows that looks like he’s talking to the cars as they pass by, with a speaker set up outside so children can hear St. Nick greet them. And speaking of greeting, the Brendlens have a beeper that goes off every time a car enters their driveway, and typically one of their children will run out to greet the visitors with hellos and candy canes. That’s Southern hospitality at its finest.
Special feature: An angel tree light display includes a mailbox in the backyard where visitors can leave donations. This year, donations will benefit Jessie Webster, a 15-year-old from Thomas Heyward Academy who is battling Burkitt's lymphoma.