This was Longboat Harbour resident Jane Hunter’s motto when decorating her dock this year for the annual Lighting of the Docks.
After a year of losing many close loved ones, she thought it was only right to dedicate one of her favorite times of the year to those who meant a lot to her.
“I just lost one of my friends yesterday so being able to think of them when decorating for Christmas is really special,” said Hunter. “I love being surrounded by an amazing community and share this display with them. Just remember butterflies and angels are always near.”
On the dock, there were multiple light-up, life-sized angels with colored lights strung up and Christmas trees along the edge. Her favorite addition to the display were the light-up butterflies that played music. John Wheeland, Gwen and Gary Wallin joined her out on the dock dressed in all white to greet everyone and share the inspiration behind the top-winning dock.
Lighting of the Docks is a favorite event of the year for most residents of Longboat Harbour. This year, it took place on Dec. 2. Residents gathered at 5:30 on the fishing dock to start their stroll around the more than 60 docks that were decorated.
“This is quite literally the best event at Longboat Harbour,” said Commodore Bill Coughlin. “Everyone always has a good time being creative on their docks and competing against each other. It is also for such a good cause. This year, we have hit an all-time record.”
Coughlin emceed the holiday parade and party. At this event, the Longboat Harbour Yacht Club sold merchandise and raffle tickets to raise money for Toys for Tots. Donations were also required to participate in the Lighting of the Docks competition. The club was able to raise $9,000 in checks and toys from the event.
“Bill is the backbone of this club and raising this money,” said John Shea, resident of Longboat Harbour. “He is the one that got the yacht club going again and the men’s club as well. So, this event just exemplifies everything we are able to do together and it is Bill’s baby. We wouldn’t be able to do anything without him.”
This was the first year that the community got to vote on the winner. In previous years, there was a panel of judges who picked the top 5. Hunter and Wheeland won a ceramic bowl, a plaque and bragging rights for the next year. The runners-up were Herb and Cindy Ritchell. They decorated their dock with hand-painted, life-sized nutcrackers.
Shea and Santa’s helper Liam Ward led the parade in golf carts. Many residents brought their own refreshments to sip on while browsing the different displays. After the parade was over, everyone celebrated with a holiday party where pizza and refreshments were served.
Coughlin said this year had the best decorations he has seen in all of his years. Residents went all out mixing different colored lights and Christmas decorations.
Jim Daly and Rob Dice paired up and put a life-sized Grinch at the end of their dock. They also scattered quotes from the famous Dr. Seuss story along the dock and served eggnog to everyone who stopped by to chat.
“This just brings the community together,” said Daly. “We are all boaters. If we are not boaters, we support other boaters. So Lighting of the Docks is truly so Longboat Harbour and allows us to celebrate Christmas in a way that is true to us: out by the water.”
Halfway through all the decorations, an archway was decorated as “Santa’s Arch.” A sign said “Santa’s Arch” would make everyone feel 10 years younger and look 10 years younger the next day.
Tony and Lisa Pupo's dock was pirate-themed, and they handed out popcorn. Many docks incorporated a Florida twist by having a "relaxed Santa Claus" sporting vacation-appropriate attire. Phil Gruppuso even dressed up as Florida Santa with a Hawaiian print shirt and swim shorts. He and Sherry Myer handed out drinks at their dock.
“We really know how to have fun here at Longboat Harbour, especially around the holidays,” Coughlin said.
Petra Rivera is the Longboat community reporter. She holds a bachelor’s degree of journalism with an emphasis on reporting and writing from the University of Missouri. Previously, she was a food and drink writer for Vox magazine as well as a reporter for the Columbia Missourian.