Fall, the brief couple of weeks between taking down hurricane shutters and decking the halls with boughs of fake holly, is my favorite time of year, but the shortest season in North Florida. There’s hardly enough time to hang a wreath with fake fall leaves on the front door before draping holiday lights over Rooney Bin bushes.

 

As I write this, it’s the week before Thanksgiving, and things have been merry and bright for weeks. Black Friday sales began the first of the month. Christmas displays are up in Home Depot, Ace Hardware and Costco. Bushes and trees already are twinkling in the neighborhood. This year, due to necessary household renovations, the Bin will concede the annual neighborhood race to see who puts up holiday lights first. Oh the guilt; oh the pressure.

Blame Thomas Edison. He invented the first electric light bulb in 1879. Prior to that, pagans lit candles and bonfires during Winter Solstice festivals, hoping their light would encourage the sun’s warmth and light to return after a cold, dark winter. Christians adopted the custom and lighted Christmas trees with candles, fire hazards to say the least. In 1882, Edward H. Johnson, vice president of Edison’s electric company, was the first to illuminate an at-home Christmas tree with electric lights; it revolved and had 80 red, white and blue blinking bulbs. In 1895, then-President Grover Cleveland sponsored the first electrically lighted White House Christmas tree. It had more than 100 lights, a luxury in those days; our forebears’ tax dollars at work. It wasn’t until 1903 that General Electric made and sold sets of pre-wired lights for public use.

In anticipation of the annual deck the bushes day, I established a committee to handle the task. I should know better. Only a third of those enlisted to work actually do anything. The rest just want to have a title, see their name on the host committee list and come to the party. There are only three people in this household, so do the math and guess who’s in charge of most special events around here. The vice president in charge of all things electrical disappears in search of exterior extension cords. The second vice president in charge of helping untangle the light strings won’t get out of bed and the president in charge of the other two will be beside herself proposing to can the entire project. “Let’s skip the whole thing and go the Sea Walk Pavilion to see Jacksonville Beach Deck The Chairs,” I’ll suggest.

DECK THE CHAIRS

Deck The Chairs kicks off from 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday in Latham Plaza and the Seawalk Pavilion area. The free event features the First Coast Wind Symphony, kids’ activities, food trucks, VIP and sponsor recognition, and the Spirit of the Corps Award recognizing an outstanding member of the Volunteer Life Saving Corps of Jacksonville Beach. The annual lighted exhibit uses the corps’ iconic chairs to create about 40 colorful, festive lighted sculptures. The spectacular Create the Joy Light Show premiere is Sunday, Dec. 3. Lights will be on nightly through Jan. 2, but weekends feature special musical and dance performances. Sponsor donations benefit the historic Volunteer Life Saving Corps of Jacksonville Beach. Visit www.deckthechairs.org for a list of entertainment and activities.

HOLIDAY SHOPPING TREASURES

Meanwhile, Beaches folks are shopping up a storm. Once again, the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach kicked off the season with its Holiday Shoppes at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall. The three-day spree from Nov. 9-11 featured about two dozen vendors selling women’s clothing, handbags and shoes, gifts for the kiddies, accessories, jewelry, home décor, and sweet treats. Proceeds benefit the center’s art education programs. Throughout the year, the center hosts eight major art exhibits, and more than 175 programs for children and adults at all skill levels. For info about programs offered, go to www.ccpvb.org.

Those in the know also shopped Nov. 9-11 at Sawgrass Country Club golf clubhouse, where artisan club members offered original hand-crafted jewelry, art, clothing, books, handmade textiles, holiday decorations and more.

Bargain hunters found deals galore among the treasures offered at the annual Vicar’s Landing Holiday Boutique. John and Joy Ward co-chaired the sale assisted by residents and volunteer associate members. The money raised goes toward scholarships for employees to help further their educations. Residents and friends donate prized possessions they no longer want. Treasures included a Christmas shop, books and puzzles, linens, Waterford and Baccarat crystal, Lennox china, Chinese jars, art, furniture, rugs, lamps and the ever popular jewelry room. Vicar’s Landing is a retirement community in Ponte Vedra Beach that provides independent and assisted living as well as a health center.

BEAM WELCOMES NEW HEAD

On Nov. 9, the board of directors of Beaches Emergency Assistance Ministry hosted a party in its bountiful Grace Garden to “Meet &Greet” new executive director Lori Richards. BEAM was established in 1985 by a Beaches Ministerial Alliance of about 10 pastors from local churches to help prevent needy Beaches families from becoming homeless. BEAM runs a food pantry, including fresh produce from the garden, offers help with rent and utilities, and assistance with applications for food stamps and Medicaid benefits, plus seasonal support such as back-to-school supplies, Thanksgiving food and Christmas gifts. In 2016, 421 BEAM volunteers distributed 572,815 pounds of food, helped 15,337 adults and children, and provided $285,070 in rent, utility and other assistance to qualified Beaches families.

Richards brings more than two decades of non-profit experience to BEAM. She has a master’s degree in non-profit management from University of Central Florida and last served as executive director PACE Center for Girls Volusia-Flagler Counties. At this time, Richards plans no major changes. “The growth made by the previous leadership was awesome. … I hope to expand our current services and expand the food bank just to make sure we’re on the right track,” she said. To learn more about BEAM, go to www.jaxbeam.org.

STROLLING THE SHOPPES

On Nov. 16, shopping continued with Strolling The Shoppes of Ponte Vedra. Proceeds from sales at J.McLaughlin, Goldfinch Boutique, Fisherman’s Dock, Table 1, Talbots, OCA Studio and an Underwood’s jewelers’ David Yurman Trunk Show, plus cash donations from modelcitizen and Le Macaron French Pastries, were donated to The Pink Ribbon Golf Classic to benefit Baptist Medical Center Beaches and Mayo Clinic-Jacksonville breast cancer research and related patient services.

Underwood’s wrapped up The Pink Ribbon with a cocktail party, during which chairwoman Nancy Morrison presented a check for $262,000 to representatives from Mayo and Baptist Medical Center Beaches. Mayo Dr. Dawn Mussallem said the donation would be used for lymphedema research, quality of life issues for breast cancer patients and research for preventing breast cancer. Dr. Ryan Makar accepted the check for the Baptist Medical Center Beaches. The Baptist contribution will go towards breast cancer treatment and services, including a second mammography unit in the new surgical services building being built at the Beaches, as well as an endowment for young women who are diagnosed with or are at increased risk for breast cancer. In the 11 years since Ponte Vedran Susie Buckey and members of the Ponte Vedra Women’s Golf Association founded the all-volunteer, non-profit Pink Ribbon Classic, about $1.5 million has been raised for local breast cancer research and related services.

NIGHTS OF LIGHTS

Nights of Lights, another spectacular holiday lighting display, is just a short drive south to the nation’s oldest city, where millions of lights are already twinkling and will cover the cityscape through Wednesday, Jan. 31. In 2011 and 2012, St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights was selected by National Geographic as one of the best holiday lighting displays in the world. Enjoy the experience on foot, from a horse and carriage or riding through old town by trolley.

PHONE CALLS FROM SANTA

St. Johns County Parks and Recreation is offering something special for children eight years old and younger: phone calls from Santa. Parents must register children by Saturday, Dec. 2. Download a registration form from www.sjcfl.us/youthactivities and fax it to (904) 209-0321 or email it to jjbratovich@sjcfl.us. Then expect your little ones to get a jingle from Santa between 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec.5; Wednesday, Dec. 6; or Thursday, Dec. 7. For more information, call (904) 209-0386.

A FINAL WORD

More and more folks in the Bin neighborhood hire people to do their outside holiday lighting. What fun is that? In 2016, the annual deck the bushes ordeal began well enough. I dragged out bags of lights and the vice president in charge of all things electrical was assigned to get extension cords. VP No.2 was found watching TV and preventing cholesterol build-up by eating a bowl of Cheerios — one by one. After some time passed, I searched for extension cord guy (I demoted him), who had gone to his workshop to repair a cord cut by a hedge trimmer and got distracted by a model train project. “Let’s get on with it,” I urged.

Although the lights all worked when we took them down, the neatly stored strings had become mysteriously tangled and several would only half light. Then the breaker kept tripping. I was about to blow a fuse, too. That’s when I had an epiphany. “Let’s go to hardware store and buy new lights; it’s easier than changing bulbs,” I said. VP No. 2 was still working on cereal, so extension cord guy and I headed to the store, where he happily bought a plug to fix the broken cord and contemplated an inflatable Santa for the lawn. I nixed that idea, but as this year’s lighting project looms, I wonder if it’s too late to hire my neighbor’s light guy?

Jackie Rooney is a freelance writer in Ponte Vedra Beach. Contact her at rooneybin@comcast.net.