By Blanche T. Sullivan, Contributor (@hhieditor)
“The most tastefully tacky light display in the Southeast”
Hilton Head Island, popular with vacationers year-round, is particularly festive during the holiday season and the Dove Street Festival of Lights, lovingly referred to as “The most tastefully tacky light display in the Southeast,” is undoubtedly among the most beloved holiday traditions in the Lowcountry.
This spectacular expression of holiday spirit, which has been featured in USA Today and annually attracts hundreds to its newer and more spacious location at the Shelter Cove Towne Centre, began in 1990 as a simple stringing of lights in a charming little nook of a neighborhood on Hilton Head’s North Forest Beach.
According to Paul Beckler, who co-founded the display-turned-festival with wife Kristi and neighbor Rob Lolik, the Dove Street residents were inspired by a local family’s happy news of adoption and celebratory lights and joined in by lighting up the street with their own decorations.
Said Beckler, “Rob used a telescoping pole to put the lights up higher. Later, he was able to get a cherry picker donated from Sunbelt Rentals. People came from around the community. Hilton Head High sent volunteers, PEP sent members who decorated and made cards, everyone had fun.”
News of the impressive display spread and its popularity grew quickly.
“One year, the entire choral group came from Miami University of Ohio,” Beckler recalled. “They lined both sides of Dove Street and when they sang the windows vibrated. It was amazing.”
One of the unique aspects of Dove Street was that the residents didn’t only decorate their homes, they connected them to their neighbors’ homes and created a magical twinkling tunnel of color and characters.
Said Beckler, “It wasn’t just about the lights. It was about the ambiance, the community spirit. It’s been 26 years since we first lit a bulb. A thousand cars later we were in USA Today. We simply outgrew our little street.”
Town of Hilton Head Island officials and community members came together to discuss potential venues for relocating the festival, as well as upgrading it for $35,000, but the festival’s founders didn’t want taxpayers to have to foot the bill.
The festival was put on hold for three years and then, in 2013, the Shelter Cove Towne Centre stepped up and offered to host the popular event.
According to Roni Allbritton, General Manager of the Shelter Cove Towne Centre, the center initially entered into a three-year agreement with the festival’s founders, but the response has been so positive that she doesn’t anticipate the festival relocating again.
Said Allbritton, “It will never replace the original festival, with its residential feel and people of Dove Street, but we wanted to give it a home and keep it alive. We wanted to create a place, with a Main Street feel, for the community to come together and have 100 percent support from the founders.”
Allbritton added that the 2016 festival will be more extensive and spirited than ever.
She said, “We had a lot of feedback on social media and people said they wanted that eclectic sense of Dove Street. This year we have more lights, more interactive characters, more spirit. I love it. Every time my family comes in for Thanksgiving, we go down to see the lights. It’s a wonderful experience with great picture-taking opportunities.”
Because philanthropy is an important festival component, Beckler trademarked the Dove Street Festival of Lights name so that it could only be used for charitable events. Since its inception, the festival has raised more than $120,000 for local charities, such as the Island Recreation Association and Programs for Exceptional People (PEP).
In addition to benefitting Island Rec and PEP, the 2016 festival will also benefit the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry’s “Disaster Recovery and Rebuilding Fund.” The fund, which was established in 2004, is the town’s designated disaster relief fund and will be instrumental in helping those devastated by Hurricane Matthew (October 2016).
Those seeking an unforgettable family-friendly holiday experience will love the Dove Festival of Lights, which includes a 30-foot Christmas tree, charming characters, carolers, musicians, “snow bubbles,” decorated storefronts and more.
The 2016 Dove Street Festival of Lights runs November 19 – December 31, 2016, 6-10pm, with an official public lighting ceremony scheduled to take place at 6pm on December 6. Santa and Mrs. Claus will also greet visitors from 6-8pm on December 22 and 23.
You can find additional information about the Dove Street Festival of Lights, including a complete schedule of events, and the Shelter Cove Community by visiting ShelterCoveTowneCentre.com and WelcometoShelterCove.com. Learn about other Hilton Head festivals and events by visiting HiltonHeadIsland.org.