The Christmas season is starting to spring up around the Grand Strand. From decorations on palm trees to snow men replacing sand castles, the signs of the holiday season are unmistakable around Myrtle Beach, which is making the magical transformation from beach town to winter wonderland. Here's a list of local holiday events you don't want to miss:
* Parades: Everyone loves the traditional street parade with marching bands and waving beauty queens, and the Grand Strand has plenty of those. But it's the area's distinct seaside character that puts a unique spin on this holiday parade, and a new meaning to the term “floats.”
The Intracoastal Christmas Regatta (5 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 29) features a flotilla of decorated watercraft, from fancy yachts to modest house boats. The parade route follows the Intracoastal Waterway from the Little River waterfront to Dock Holiday's Marina in North Myrtle Beach. Parade-goers can find a spot along the waterway or visit the launching and landing points.
Other local parades also have a beach-y feel as parade routes roll along oceanfront streets and Santa may be spotted riding on a surfboard or cruising in a convertible. Broadway at the Beach (11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 6) will host the only parade in Myrtle Beach proper, but city parades are held in North Myrtle Beach (5:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6), Murrells Inlet (3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 7) and Surfside Beach (2 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 13).
* Tree Lightings: Nothing sparks the holiday spirit like the flipping of the switch on the old Christmas tree, and this ritual will be lighting up the shopping centers and town squares throughout the Grand Strand.
Upcoming lighting celebrations at the former are scheduled for Barefoot Landing (7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 21) and Broadway at the Beach (6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 22), which also includes a free fireworks show. Local municipalities will hold their ceremonies at the following dates and times: Conway (6 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 4), Surfside Beach (7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 4), North Myrtle Beach (6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 5), and Myrtle Beach (6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 14 at Christmas Towne).
* Festivals: One of the most popular holiday displays on the entire East Coast is held at Brookgreen Garden in Murrells Inlet. “Nights of a Thousand Candles” sees the scenic botanical sculpture garden transformed into a Lowcountry winter wonderland for night evenings each year (5 to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday), Dec. 4-6, 11-13, 18-20). Candles and floating lanterns illuminate the live oaks, statues and pools to give visitors a rare view of the gardens at night. Live music and other performances are held throughout the premises and hot cocoa and apple cider are available. Also open for its regular daily hours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Brookgreen re-opens at 5 p.m.
Another growing holiday tradition continues with the 11th Annual Christmas Towne Festival at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center (2 to 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 14). Focusing on the kids, Christmas Towne offers the little ones inflatable rides and slides, balloon art and face painting, complimentary cupcakes, and hot cocoa and free photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus. When the sun goes down, the lights come on the Christmas tree on the outdoor plaza.
And for your four-legged friends, the Conway Canine Costume Contest (Thursday, Dec. 18) allows dogs to dress up like their favorite holiday characters for the chance to win prizes and lots of “awws” from the crowd. See dogs dressed up like the Grinch, Rudolph and Santa “Claws” himself. In addition to the costume contests, awards are given for best singer, best dancer and best kisser.