The chapel's Friendship Garden currently hosts more than a dozen decorated trees.
Who needs one of Chevy Chase's most beloved characters when you have Pastor Brock Patterson at the Longboat Island Chapel?
“I’m Clark Griswold all the way,” Patterson said. “This year, this was all we can do. Next year, there’ll be more.”
The chapel kicked off its Christmas in the Garden event the weekend after Thanksgiving and hosted the first Christmas concert in the garden on Nov. 30. Attendees made their way to the gazebo amidst a grove of twinkling Christmas trees from 10 local organizations. The sponsors decorated their own trees, but because the chapel didn’t know the response they would get in this first year, they decorated several of their own. Patterson got up on the ladder and wrapped live trees in lights, too. The result is a glowing, festive-at-every-turn garden.
“This was the first year, so I didn’t know how we were going to grow and how people would respond, so the initial plan was just lights in the trees,” Patterson said.
This is the first year of the chapel’s winter wonderland, which involves community Christmas trees and all the lights the garden can hold. Initially, chapel leadership wanted to decorate their friendship garden with lights and a few trees, but Patterson bandied about the idea of the Christmas tree garden. They reached out to local organizations, and after an initial spurt of radio silence, the whole thing snowballed. Volunteer Lesley Rife said it turned out to be a contagious idea. Patterson, a relative newbie to the island, noticed that there was nothing else like it on the island. He knew it would work.
“We presented the idea to a group of people with ideas and creativity, but it takes a lot of courage to step out and see if something will happen,” Patterson said. “As an outsider, I could see that there was nothing like it on the island … We’re absolutely planning on doing it next year, taking notes on what we’ve learned.”
In true Griswold fashion, there were too many lights for the chapel’s power grid at first. The first day of full glow was supposed to be Nov. 28, but all the lights came on officially on Nov. 30. Rife and Patterson said that a couple dozen people had walked through the garden during the day to take in the details. In the evening, a couple dozen more came to bask in the glow of the trees, as well as the Christmas crooning of Boris and Sax.
Nov. 30 was a chilly Florida night, but it brought out the Christmas spirit. Dave and Karen Weissenstein, who spend part of their year on Longboat Key every year, said they’re far more used to the Vermont Christmas, not this Florida Christmas where it’s bearable to sit outside and take in the trees.
Before and after the concert, attendees strolled through the garden to take in the 13 trees. The Longboat Key Garden Club tree included birds, feathers and natural ornaments. The Driftwood Beach Home and Garden and David Gregory Salon trees aptly included a driftwood garland and tiny combs and curlers as ornaments, respectively. There was a spot to take a photo nestled in the winter glow, and extra lights and scenes at every turn.
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