Winter in Charleston is magical. The heat and humidity have dissipated by November, but it’s rarely cold enough that you need more than a sweatshirt. Summer visitors are also gone, leaving beaches and restaurants to the locals. During the last few weeks of the year, most Charlestonians are ready to relax and enjoy some long-standing traditions. Here are a few favorites:
By November Oyster Season is in full swing, and oyster roasts are hands-down the favorite way to enjoy the end-of-year slowdown. Backyard and community oyster roasts are popular, as are roasts for charity. If you’ve never been to an oyster roast, you can stop by the grocery or hardware store and pick up an oyster knife and glove – (although most gatherings have extras for sharing.)
Local oysters are steamed – usually over an open fire – with a wet burlap bag on top. The steam opens the shells so you can dig out the meat. You can eat your steamed oysters straight from the shell, on a Saltine cracker, or dip it in cocktail sauce with horseradish.
Don’t care for oysters? Not to worry – it’s traditional to serve a hearty soup or stew alongside the shellfish.
Turkey Day Run
Before Charleston dives headfirst into Christmas, we make the most of Thanksgiving. The annual Turkey Day Run is a fun 5K that takes place every Thanksgiving morning. The race loops through downtown, passing some of Charleston’s most iconic architecture. Out-of-town guests and fun runners are expected, as are costumes. The race ends with live music and a free beer tent. Proceeds from the event benefit dozens of local charities.
Holiday Parade of Boats
Charleston loves Christmas, and we like to kick things off with a showy start. The annual boat parade is held the first Saturday evening of December and features dozens of sail and motorboats decked out and lit up bright enough you can see them from space. The parade begins on the Mount Pleasant side of the harbor, crosses near the Ravenel Bridge, and then sails past Waterfront park downtown before ending in the Ashley River.
Patriots Point is an excellent place to watch, as is Waterfront Park or anywhere along The Battery. Dress warmly and grab a big cup of coffee from a local shop before staking out your spot.
Chanukah in the Square
Charleston’s Jewish community has roots that stretch back to the founding of the colony. In fact, Charleston is home to Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, the second oldest synagogue in the country. Chanuka in the Square is a free family-friendly event that is open to everyone. The Jewish community pulls out the stops, handing out free traditional food to everyone who shows up. There’s live music, plenty of community spirit (even if you’re not Jewish), and a spectacular 9-foot menorah that is lit at dusk.
If you love A Christmas Carol, you won’t want to miss the annual Dickens Dinner. Guests embark on a four-course Victorian England-inspired dinner at Circa 1886, one of Charleston’s most atmospheric restaurants. During dinner, a professional storyteller gives a lively retelling of Charles Dickens’ most treasured tale. This event sells out so get tickets early.
Wine Under the Oaks
The annual Wine Under the Oaks at Boone Hall Plantation is one of the most anticipated events of the holiday season. Taking place the first weekend in December, a ticket gets you a commemorative tasting glass and more wine and food tastings than you can get through. The best part? It all takes place under the grand live oaks at Boone Hall. An abbreviated tour of the main house is included, and docents are used to happy, tipsy guests.
Grand Illumination Dinner at Middleton Place
Wander the torchlit gardens of historical Middleton Place as actors in period costume take you back to Christmas in 1782. Dinner includes hearty early American fare and specialty cocktails. There isn’t a cozier event in Charleston, but get tickets early as the event sells out.
Night of a Thousand Candles
Just an hour from Charleston is Brookgreen Gardens, a treat to visit any time of year. However, on December evenings the gardens are illuminated by thousands of candles and sparkling lights. Guests can stroll the garden with cider, listening to carolers and taking in the evergreen plants and artistic sculptures. This is a tradition for many Charleston families so reserve your tickets as soon as possible.
There’s one more 5K to be run before you can quit for the year. The annual Reindeer run takes place on the first Saturday in December. The race loops around the harbor and historic Charleston before ending at the beer tent. There are prizes for the best costume in this race, so dress up and expect to have lots of fun.
If you’re new to Charleston, you may find that November and December quickly become your favorite months of the year. Accept impromptu invitations for backyard oyster roasts and holiday cocktail parties, and sprinkle in a few planned events to create your new family traditions.