Simple island pleasures bring joy at Christmas
They’re might not be the iconic snow blanketing the ground and trees or spirals of grey smoke chugging from chimneys on the islands.
What’s also missing is flashing billboards, rows of Christmas tree lots and department stores brimming with crowded parking lots and traffic.
Instead of the hustle and bustle on the mainland, shellers strolling on soft sandy beaches, candlelight Christmas services under moonlight and residents sharing holiday drinks and goodwill is more the norm here.
Folks, welcome to Christmas island style where the spirit of Christmas seems to thrive.
Here residents enjoy the simple things – like collecting shells on Christmas Day or going to Periwinkle Park and Campground to watch the twinkling lights strung.
What folks enjoy about Christmas on the islands
Joe Pacheco who is a full-time Sanibel resident said he looks forward to spending time with friends and going to their parties and get-togethers.
“I am strictly an island man during Christmas because I can’t stand alot of the glitter and dazzle that’s on the mainland,” said Sanibel resident Joe Pacheco. “I prefer the quiet Sanibel get togethers. I consider that more that spirit of the holidays.”
Belen and John Brisco are elated to spend a quiet Christmas with their adult children and dogs. The couple have five border collies and several rescue dogs they are fostering.
Belen Brisco said she loves the connected feeling she has with her neighbors during the holidays. During a recent dog walk, a neighbor smiled at Belen and John Brisco walking their canine crew and hollered Merry Christmas.
“Everybody’s know’s everybody,” Belen Brisco said. “It’s just a real nice community feel. I think everybody just reaches out and says Merry Christmas.”
Marcia Kimball and her daughter Allicia are relieved to be away from the clogged malls and grouchy shoppers and instead surrounded by friendly faces at the local island stores and their neighborhood.
“We do live in Paradise,” Marcia Kimball said. “It’s a beautiful place to be. The best part of Christmas on Sanibel is living on Sanibel. Sanibel still stays quiet. It’s comfortable.”
Brenda Kinnaman and her partner Steve Brown plan on getting together with close friends and enjoying the Lighthouse Beach Christmas Eve service officiated by the Sanibel United Congregational Church.
Aside from the quaint church services, many residents just enjoy the level of connectedness with family and friends especially felt during the holidays.
“People are really friendly here,” said Holly Maiz. “There’s just a quality of generosity here that really blossoms.”
Charlie Sobczak enjoys listening to the Australian pine in his fireplace crackle as his son plays the works of classical composers Sergei Rachmaninoff and Fredric Chopin.
“It’s the tranquility of it,” said Charlie Sobczak. “The most commercial part is the lights on Periwinkle.”
Alex Werner, the president of the Sanibel History Museum and Village, said the camaraderie and intimacy felt by islanders is what makes Christmas on the islands so special. He said the close-knit feeling developed decades ago when the City passed laws restricting the amount of homes that could be built on the islands in order to protect the environment. Fewer residents makes it easier for folks to become familiar with their neighbors and be part of their lives.
“It makes a warm feeling about Christmas,” Werner said.
History set unique island feel in motion
Being on an island tends to keep you a bit isolated from the rest of the world – local and global. This of course often leads to camaraderie of among the islanders. Sanibel and Captiva are no exception to this.
Aside from the islandesque camaraderie, residents experienced a high level of joy around the holidays during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Most were working hard to get winter crops harvested, packed at the packing house and shipped. There was work and people were making money.
“Everybody was happy,” Werner said.
During the farming time period on the islands, people decorated their homes for Christmas with Christmas holly AKA Brazilian pepper.
Clarence Rutland brought the non-native plant that was used in wreaths and other decorations. The plant later designated a nuisance plant is 90 percent eradicated from the islands, Werner said. Crepe Myrtle – another nuisance plant was also used to decorate homes for Christmas.
And small Australian pines were used as Christmas trees.
Francis Bailey, an island patriarch and co-owner of Bailey’s, recalls decorating the family tree with popcorn and cranberries. His voice takes on a wistful note as he chats putting out cookies and milk for Santa Claus and eating plum pudding with the Christmas dinner. He shudders when he thinks about how his jitters in participating in school Christmas plays. But mostly he remembers a time when Santa Claus visited the children and gifts were magically left.
“Santa Claus is very real,” Bailey said.
Santa Claus with the help of Bailey family members used to visit the Community House and give the child residents gifts, Werner said.
“The Community Center became the center of the Universe,” Werner said.
spiritual connection during Christmas
Living on a place with little commercialism and earthly trappings can help people experience a more spiritual Christmas.
Area church’s say the natural feel of the islands helps folks enjoy a meaningful Christmas.
At the Chapel By the Sea on Captiva, worshippers get a chance to listen to Christmas music under a canopy of stars, said Chapel minister Robert Hansel.
“You really have the sense of silent night,” Hansel said. “The whole atmosphere is so close to nature.”
On Christmas Day people can listen to spiritual Christmas music and contemplate about Hansel’s sermon of What Christmas Means to them. The chapel is located off on 11580 Chapin Lane, Captiva.
Things to do on Christmas Day
Aside from churches such as the Chapel By the Sea which will be open for worshippers, folks can check out shelling on the beach or take a stroll along Periwinkle Way and Periwinkle Park and Campground and gaze at the twinkling Christmas lights.
The islands offer a chance to get back to nature, family and friends and experience an old-fashioned non-commercial Christmas.