Like many small American towns, Seaside celebrates the holidays with nostalgia and a bygone spirit. Beginning Thanksgiving Day weekend with the showing of the beloved Nutcracker ballet and ending with a New Year’s Eve spectacular celebration, Seaside celebrates the most wonderful time of the year by preserving traditions and making memories.
Many families make Seaside their home away from home, where they can enjoy a beachside Thanksgiving or Christmas that can include a beach-themed tree trimming and a Gulf Coast-inspired holiday feast.
Ole Miss fans Lauren and Wes Jones, from Oxford, Miss., visit Seaside every other Thanksgiving (alternating between the Ole Miss home games). In 2017, the family of four, including two children, ages seven and nine, stayed at Above the Crowd at 25 Central Square. Extended family members stayed in various cottages or condos along Highway 30A and gathered in one of the larger rentals for the big Thanksgiving meal. “The weather is so nice this time of year, and we love going to the beach, letting the kids run around,” Lauren says. “We can sit atop and look down over the amphitheater. It’s easy to get in out of restaurants. And there’s no pressure to be in a bathing suit at the beach all day. It’s a more relaxed time to be down here.”
David and Jane Grayson have stayed at two of the beachfront honeymoon cottages over the recent years to celebrate their wedding anniversary and Christmas. From Spanish Fort, Ala. close to Mobile County, the Graysons also have a vacation home in Gulf Shores, Ala. “But the views are much prettier in Seaside,” Jane says, adding that Seaside’s Christmas concert and decorations are part of the allure this time of year. “We especially love the chapel’s Christmas Eve service, going to the shops and eating at all little walkup Airstreams. My parents used to have an Airstream so it’s special for me.”
Mark and Paige Schnell have lived in Seagrove for 14 years, and are full-time residents who enjoy the benefits of the world’s first New Urbanist community. “As one of America’s most iconic walkable mixed-use communities, Seaside is built to encourage interaction between friends, family and neighbors,” Mark says. “That makes it a perfect place to spend the holidays — a time of year when we all try to stop, take a deep breath and just enjoy each other and the beautiful surroundings. And it’s a great time of year to enjoy all of the fun activities, from the parade and tree lighting over the Thanksgiving weekend to the fireworks on New Year’s Eve.”
Amy Wise Coble, general manager for Homeowner’s Collection, part of the Seaside Visitors Bureau group of rental services, agrees that the holidays in Seaside are special. “My favorite tradition is Turn on the Town,” she says. “It has such a wholesome feel and it is always so much fun to watch the kids’ eyes light up when Santa arrives on the fire truck. My daughter was asked once to escort Santa from the porch of Great Southern Café, where he had to hide from the rain for a while, to the stage. I still remember her taking his hand and heading off. She felt so important and I’ll never forget her smile. The holidays in Seaside are about family, friendships and tradition and you truly can feel it in the air.”
Robert Kottler first discovered Seaside in 1984 during a work trip from New Orleans. He was so enamored that he and his wife Jenny started their tradition of Seaside with their honeymoon in a quaint pink cottage on Robert’s Way. Their daughter grew up visiting Seaside with her parents as often as she could until 2011 when Bob and Jenny finally bought Pitter Patter on East Ruskin Street. The Kottlers have made Seaside their holiday tradition, visiting every Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Their favorite part is watching the parade make its way down 30A, then strolling to the town center as they sing along with the crowds for the anticipated lighting of the town and Christmas tree, and now taking the annual Christmas photo of their grandson Emile, dog Otis, and Santa Claus.
Seaside merchants also get into the spirit, with gorgeous decorations that sparkle and twinkle. Central Square Records even incorporates music into the décor. “Our music is our best decoration,” says Ed Jack, manager. “Some of our favorites are: Vince Guaraldi Trio ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas,’ ‘Christmas Cocktails’ Compilations (Holiday Jazz), Jimmy Smith ‘Christmas ‘64,’ Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings ‘It’s A Holiday Soul Party,’ Kenny Burrell ‘Have Yourself A Soulful Little Christmas,’ Andy Williams ‘Christmas Album,’ and Frank Sinatra ‘Ultimate Christmas’ and Glen Campbell ‘Christmas With Glen Campbell.’ And we love hanging Christmas ornaments from the outside porch ceiling.”
Amavida Coffee & Tea hosts its annual Ugly Christmas Sweater Party in early December, a hit for those who love to bring out their sparkling and festive sweaters.
Kicking off this year’s holiday season is a performance of The Nutcracker, based on the critically acclaimed Russian ballet set to Tchaikovsky’s beloved score. From the ballet that launched a national holiday tradition, Ballet Pensacola dancers will perform under the stars at the Seaside Amphitheater. The Nutcracker performance is the result of the vision of Seaside co-founder Daryl Davis, who introduced performance arts in Seaside. The show will be held Saturday, Nov. 17, at 5 p.m. and is free to the public.
The Holiday Farmers Market, Tuesday, Nov. 20, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the amphitheater, offers a variety of local vendors who feature fresh produce, baked goods, dairy products, native plants and even some special holiday treats.
Friday, Nov. 23, grab your blankets and head down to the amphitheater for a holiday edition of Central Square Cinema on the lawn in Central Square. The featured movie is “Elf,” starring Will Ferrell.
The festive events continue Saturday, Nov. 24, at 9 a.m. with the annual South Walton Holiday Parade. This Seaside and 30A tradition begins in front of Seagrove Plaza. Residents and visitors share in the glory as participants march 1.5 miles down Scenic Highway 30A from Seagrove decked in their Christmas best on festive holiday floats.
Hosted by the Merchants of Seaside, Turn on the Town includes the annual tree lighting ceremony and features live music and a special appearance by Santa Claus.
Santa, master of ceremonies for the evening, will invite all of the kids to join him in front of the stage for a sing-along before magically brightening up the town. Then, the countdown begins in unison to light the 24-foot Christmas tree, as all of downtown Seaside is illuminated with bright, holiday lights. Following the lighting ceremony, bring your camera for photos with the jolly ole elf from 5 to 8 p.m.
Make plans to be in Seaside in December as the merchants host the popular Sinfonia Gulf Coast performing the Holiday Pops concert under the stars Dec. 15 at 5 p.m. Bring your lawn chairs and blankets and allow the sounds of the season to remind you of all the magic of the holidays.
Then roll in New Year’s Eve at the seventh annual Countdown Seaside: A New Year’s Eve Celebration Dec. 31. Experience a spectacular, family-friendly party featuring live entertainment, kid’s art projects, street performers and a memorable finale. Festivities begin at 6 p.m.