The Cloister at Sea Island decorated for Christmas
If you have never experienced the festive beauty and wonder of Christmas tradition at Sea Island, now is your chance. The 29th Annual Cassina Garden Club Christmas Tour of Homes celebrates “Sea Island – Holiday Traditions” by showcasing six—rather than the usual five—beautiful private homes on Sea Island for the first time its nearly three decade history as well as a tour of Sea Island’s dazzling focal point, The Cloister. The tour itself is an island tradition that was started by the Club to raise money to preserve and maintain the historic tabby cabins at Gascoigne Bluff, an important part of this island’s own history.
The Cloister opened in 1928, the same year that the Cassina Garden Club was founded. The Club is now a 501(C)3 organization that has sponsored many civic beautification projects throughout the years. Since 1932 it has preserved and restored the tabby slave cabins on Gascoigne Bluff, site of the original Hamilton Plantation, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. All tour proceeds benefit the preservation and restoration of the cabins.
This year the entire Tour of Homes takes place on Sea Island and the Tour committee is thrilled to be able to feature a record six homes and The Cloister. Each one of the private homes will be festively decorated for the holidays with seasonal arrangements designed by Cassina members using local greenery. Additionally, visitors will share or experience a special holiday tradition of the owners of each home, whether it be through antique Christmas china decorating the table, an ornament collection, or a special family story.
Sea Island has been creating holiday memories and traditions for families to enjoy for 85 years. On Tour Day, guests will be able to get a taste of that experience. The gleaming jewel of Sea Island, The Cloister, in keeping with its own Christmas tradition, will be beautifully decorated with spectacular holiday floral arrangements, soaring Christmas trees and there will be surprises that are sure to delight both eyes and ears! Special dining, shopping and lodging opportunities on Sea Island will be available for Tour guests. What a special treat Sea Island is at Christmas!
“Celebrating the Christmas holidays on Sea Island has been remarkably unchanged since the early days,” says Merry Tipton, Sea Island’s Corporate Communication Director. “As the years went by, new events and experiences were added, but the mainstays have been constant: the traditional Yule Log Ceremony on Christmas Eve, children’s parties with Santa Claus, jeep-train rides, gingerbread houses and other culinary displays, musical performances and caroling, beautiful Christmas decorations and trees, holiday receptions, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners, and, more than anything, simply gathering as families and friends in a much-loved location to celebrate together.”
Just looking at Sea Island’s newsletters throughout the years, it’s clear to see the Christmas holiday has always been an important time to celebrate, with the evolving festivities sometimes including egg nog parties, fish fries, oyster roasts, hunt luncheons, a wassail bowl, movies, and horseback riding. Merry says, “Recent additions to the traditions include Elf Tuck-ins (Junior Staffers read stories to young guests at bedtime, with milk and cookies), a Reindog Parade, Snow Day, and Christmas services in The Cloister Chapel.” Stories from longtime Sea Island residents include tales of holiday decorating contests and favorite holiday parties. Perhaps Tour guests can coax some of these stories out of the docents and Tour staff.
Even the famous Cassina Bake Sale, known as the most popular in the Southeast, and open to the public at the tabby cabins from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Tour Day, is a tradition. This annual sale offers a large assortment of beautifully packaged pies, cakes, Christmas cookies, and breads, as well as jams and fruit baskets from Cassina members’ gardens. Many of these delicious treats are holiday staples that were created using recipes that have been handed down for generations in Cassina members’ families. People have been known to drive for miles just to arrive early to purchase “Kay’s cakes.”
The Bake Sale is also an excellent opportunity to take home and preserve your own piece of island tradition by buying the Cassina cookbook, “Coastal Cookery.” The cookbook was the very first Cassina fundraising project, and is now sold at the Home Tour Bake Sale as a continuing means to raise funds for the maintenance of the tabby cabins. It has been in print for 80 years and still has the original handwritten recipes, ingredients and measures from long ago.
The 29th annual Christmas Tour of Homes will take place on Saturday, December 7 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tickets will be for sale on site at the historic tabby slave cabins at Gascoigne Bluff on Tour Day, and access to all homes is available only via tour buses departing from that site. For discounted advance tickets, visit cassinagardenclub.org or call 912.399.1152.