At the heart of the Outer Banks is small town America. Beyond the beach cottages, the the thousands of visitors that come for a stay every week, the businesses that thrive on the income our main industry brings us, is this wonderful slice of Americana.

It is the Christmas season that brings these thoughts and images to the fore. They are here at other times, but there is something about the way in which we celebrate the season on the Outer Banks that seems to evoke images of a simpler time.

The Manteo tree lighting ceremony on Friday was quintessential Outer Banks life. The combined choirs of First Flight High School and Manteo High School flanked the stage. The stage was set on the front steps of the old Dare County Courthouse–a magnificent early 20th century brick building. Lighting and production was handled by volunteers from the Lost Colony (ok–this is a little more professional than most small towns get) and the entertainment was a magnificent mix of professional quality performance and small town entertainment.

British actress and longtime Manteo resident, Barbara Hird, has perfected the role of Queen Elizabeth and it is fitting that she would be the master of ceremonies. The high school choirs were extraordinary in the precision of their harmonies and the sound of their voices. Tshombe Selby is always a highlight. A classically trained tenor, the resonance, power and quality of his voice is astonishing to hear in a small town setting.


There were the Wright Dancers, a small troupe of older women who performed to “Frosty the Snowman”. Dressed in what was probably snowman costumes their performance was in the spirit of the season if the dancing was not exactly precise.

There were wonderful small touches to the evening–Manteo, as an example, burns a real log to represent the yuletide log. The United Methodist Church shows up every year to hand out cups of stew. Tasty and hot, it’s perfect on a cold evening.

Depending on who you talk to the highlight is either the tree lighting–Mayor Jamie Daniels flipped a switch and the lights went on on the trees across the street in the parking lot. Or Santa Claus–and there were a lot of kids lined up to see him.

Upon mature reflection, however, the best Santa Claus showed up in Duck for their Saturday tree lighting. The Duck Santa Claus engaged every child in a real conversation, discussed with them whether they preferred candy canes or chocolate and was always sure to ask if they had been good. “Kinda . . .” one little boy responded. Santa gave him very high marks for honesty.

The Duck tree lighting doesn’t have quite the tradition of the Manteo lighting behind it–2 years vs 41–but it is a wonderful time. The town brought Emma St. James back from her Jazz Festival performance–a vocalist with a perfect swing era style sound, food from a number of really good local restaurants with a donation to the local food bank, and then there was the tree.

A crabpot tree. Duck was a fishing village at one time–and like all of the most successful small town events, it was a celebration of tradition and the events of today.

Images: Tshombe Selby singing at Manteo

Santa with brother and sister at Duck.