Christmas Traditions on the Outer Banks | Lighting the Season’s Way

There are very few things that embody small-town America quite like the holiday season on the Outer Banks, and the Christmas tree lightings in our towns are quintessential to the season. We’re sure Santa is exhausted trying to get to all the many celebrations…

There are two Christmas tree lightings that always happen the weekend after Thanksgiving, and they each deserve a little story all their own.

Manteo Tree Lighting

Usually occurring in conjunction with the town’s First Friday festivities, the whole spirit of Manteo’s tree lighting is like something from a Norman Rockwell painting.

This year, because Thanksgiving was so early, the tree lighting fell on November 30, but whether it’s the last Friday of November of the first Friday in December, some things are constant about the Manteo celebration.

It really gets packed downtown for the event, but it’s all worth it.

Mt. Olivet UMC is always on there, handing out free portions of their Brunswick stew—good enough that the stew alone is good reason to attend. There is also free hot chocolate and this year, free hot cider. The evening wasn’t cold, but it was a far cry from warm and the hot food and drink seemed perfect.

The setting could not be more ideal. Held on the steps of what is now the Dare County Arts Council Gallery — but was once the Dare County Courthouse—the backdrop for the stage is a beautiful brick building built in 1904. With red and green lights highlighting the colonnades and brick, everything is ready for the entertainment.

The Echoes of Heritage always take the stage. A four woman gospel a cappella group, they are marvelous. There is also always a full array of kids from a local dance school as well as a dance troupe from Liberty Christian Church on Colington Island.

The entertainment highlight this year had to be the three Manteo school choirs—Manteo Elementary, Middle Schools and High School—in a combined performance. Hollie Writtenberry-Lewis from Manteo Elementary conducted with the high school conductor, Becki Rea, playing keyboards for the songs.

The weather did throw a little bit of a curve at the festivities this year, with a light shower passing over in the middle of everything. The organizers looked things over and decided to compress the event just a bit. It was probably just as well that things moved along as quickly as they did— folks were getting anxious to see the guy in the bright red suit?

When Santa did make his appearance it was to sing a couple of songs with the combined choirs. The looks the elementary school kids were giving him were priceless. And then, he threw the switch on the tree.

The tree is a giant fir that stands in the back of the parking lot across the street. This year the night was lit with every color of the rainbow. Manteo also holds a Christmas parade on Saturday.

Town of Duck

The Town of Duck has always forged its own distinctive path, and to celebrate the holidays the town has certainly continued that tradition. Let other places light a Christmas Tree, on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving Duck throws the switch on the hundreds of lights that illuminate crab pots stacked in a tree-like pyramid.

It is a marvelous way to at once celebrate the season and the town’s heritage. Long before Duck was a Mecca for Outer Banks visitors, the village had a robust and successful history of residents working the waters to make a living.

Manteo is very traditional in how it welcomes the season; Duck acknowledges that tradition but adds a few touches that make the day very much its own.

The town begins the day with an Elf Hunt through the stores that culminates with a chance for prizes later in the day.

The festivities, however, are centered on the Town Green and the the Town Hall.

Anyone going to the Duck Crab Tree Lighting will notice that the event is very dog-friendly—and that includes having the Dare County SPCA on hand with a couple of dogs ready to find a new home.

Ship’s Watch always stops by with hot chocolate, coffee and a lot of cookies and assorted sweets. The crumb cake this year was excellent.

Any good holiday tree lighting must include the music of the season, and for the past couple of years the local band Just Playing Dixieland has taken the stage. This year, along with a nucleus of regular band members, it looked as though a couple of kids from high schools were standing in as well.

They did a great job. At one point tenor sax player Paul Lesiewicz pulled a bag of small bells out and invited children to come up and do a rendition of Jingle Bells.

The First Flight High School Advanced Choir performed after Just Playing Dixieland. One of the best choral groups in the area, they sang everything a cappella.

Of course, the big event is Santa, and in Duck, he arrives with siren screaming aboard a Duck Fire Department truck. Something must happen to Santa when he gets to this town—Santa is always a pretty extraordinary fellow, but when he gets to Duck, he seems transformed and is at his very best. Patient, with a hearty bellowing laugh, he engages with children in a way that is very rarely seen. Parents, if the one Santa a child gets to visit over the holidays is the Duck Santa, they will be very happy with the visit.

This year he was asking the children if they wanted fuzzy warm socks or smooth socks. And if they wanted those socks to be one color or multi-colored. The answers were delightful and included some thought about the question.