Christmas in the Holy City

No, not St. Louis, home of the LCMS International Center, or Perryville, where some of first Lutherans to emigrate from Germany settled, or the Middle East's so-called "Holy Land" where Jesus & His walked. 

Evidently Charleston, SC, is known as the Holy City because it's skyline is peppered with church steeples. It's not an inaccurate observation. My brother, sister-in-law, and nephew (now 7 1/2) moved there in July, so I snatched a deal on a ticket and spent just under two weeks exploring Lowcountry and doing life with them. They've lived there just long enough to have identified their favorite attractions, stores, parks, and eateries but not long enough to have done it all. 

I landed at midnight and retraced my steps when I decided this installation in the arrivals terminal was photo-worthy (pineapples are a state symbol). Little did I know it was part of a city-wide holiday scavenger hunt for multiple instances each of HOPE, JOY, and LOVE. 

We spent my first full day exploring the downtown area on foot, starting near the "Pineapple Fountain."

Note the Ravenel Bridge in the distance...

"Rainbow Row" - one of the first gentrified stretches in an enclave of homes that date back to the 1700s, via a fresh coat of - brightly colored - paint. 

It's basically a Hallmark movie set. Much of the holiday decor was made from magnolia leaves (top left, bottom row). 

Quite possibly my highlight from the day was the Charleston Place Hotel, a swanky establishment that attracts more than just its overnight guests every Christmas with its extravagant decor, most notably ~150 live Christmas trees. I wanted to bottle the smell. The ones down this hallway were each decorated by a local business (pictured: Charleston Library Society). 

There's a GIANT (fake) tree in the courtyard that becomes the centerpiece of a reservations-only "Let it Snow" experience. 

Our walking tour continued with a stroll through City Market, a cross between a craft fair, an art gallery, and a souvenir shop that went on for blocks. 

And cookies. And more cookies: unlimited free cookie samples at not one, but two Byrd's locations near the market. I tried something called a "benne wafer" - a sesame-forward local specialty.

After dinner, we went to our first of many light shows/displays, this one at the historic College of Charleston, where we stumbled across JOY!

Another day's adventure took us to the brand spanking new, and incredibly moving, International African American Museum. It's built out over Gadsden's Wharf, the exact site where a staggering number of African slaves were brought into Colonial America; I had no idea Charleston figured so prominently in that epoch of our nation's past. The museum does a wonderful job spotlighting the slaves' African origins across the Atlantic and how their cultures have and continue to enhance our own.

Light display #2: Old Santee Canal Park. After the drive-through portion, we took a hayride to "Santa's Village" where we could warm up inside (!!!), make scratch art ornaments, and see the big man himself. 

South Carolina has a world class aquarium, which is doubly amazing - and crowded - when you add in a light display (#3 if you're counting). 

Reed's the one with his hands on the glass of the Great Ocean Tank, the deepest in North America. 

You can see the Ravenel Bridge from the aquarium's patio area. 

Christmas Eve breakfast courtesy of Chelsey. 

Then it was out-and-about again: we stopped by "Graffiti Park" on our way to an out-of-this world park and then Folly Beach. 

I found three shark teeth (which, Chelsey tells me, are actually shark tooth fossils that are thousands of years old)!

We couldn't miss the "Santa on Santino" after a candlelit Christmas Eve service. Look for us in the time lapse video around 19:16. 

The Maplewood Ct. Mackenzies are really on top of their holiday breakfast game: we had Christmas tree cinnamon rolls to usher in the 25th. 

It was a cloudy, cold morning perfect for indoor activities. 

We squeezed in a short "hike" (bike ride for Reed) to the Crowfield Dam before it started raining in earnest. 

My parents and sister arrived the 26th, so we did "Christmas morning" again with them. Reed had multiple gifts from Aunt Erin, one of which was a bag of foreign coins to add to his burgeoning collection, and a sheet that Grandma (my mom) helped him fill in to see how much he had in USD. 

Aaaaaaand there were cards. Lots of cards. (And Christmas crackers filled with paper crowns and kazoos that we forgot to open at dinner.) Let it be known that I never lost at a new-to-me game called Karma. 

Remember the Ravenel Bridge? 


I was excited to share an activity I've loved for as long as I can remember - little known fact: I had my birthday party at Kirkwood Ice Rink in 1st grade - with my nephew. 

He loved it and wants to have HIS birthday party at the Charleston Ice Palace! I let go of his PVC contraption when I sensed that he was pulling me, and he was cruising without so much as holding hands with anyone by the end of the public skating session.

OK, I see why Kyle & Chelsey said we needed to get to dinner at Lewis Barbecue at 4:30.

We claimed a coveted indoor spot!

One more light display (I think we're up to #5): James Island County Park. It, too, had drive-through and walk-through portions, both of which featured some of the landmarks I'd seen in real life in the preceding days. 

All of my anxiety of about leaving things in a place where I felt comfortable not taking my computer? I needn't have worried. Work didn't cross my mind once; I fully disconnected and soaked up being with family at such a special time of year. There's quite a few Charlestonian things we didn't do - Fort Sumter, the Yorktown, any of the sprawling plantations, a ghost tour, a carriage ride - and not just because Charleston isn't St. Louis and everything isn't free. I know I'll be back, and not always at Christmastime, so I was 100% OK with an itinerary built around the magic of the season. 

My parents and sister left, but I stayed through the start of the new year. Cliffhanger: you're never going to believe what I did on January 1. 

Until next time, blessings in Christ!