In our area, summer is the busy tourist season. But like much of Florida, our best weather is actually in the fall, winter, and spring. The locals know this, and plan plenty of activities accordingly. The good weather also coincides with several holidays, making the time especially festive. Holidays in our new home are definitely different from what we previously experienced in more urbanized areas, and I’m actually a bit surprised by the amount of activity we are experiencing in our sleepy little town.
Halloween is a challenge in our rural, sparsely populated area. Here on the island, costumed kids could trudge for miles in hopes of finding the few candy distribution locations among the many second homes and rental properties. To solve this problem, the lighthouse hosts a centralized event where all the candy-givers and candy-takers can meet. Tables are set up all around the park surrounding the lighthouse, and individuals or businesses can reserve a spot to set up a candy dispensary. Add to this the timing of the event (just after dark) and some creative decorations, and you have a fun and functional way for kids to get the trick-or-treat experience. After two consecutive years of this event, have I managed to take even one photo? No, I have not. Reader, sometimes with this blog you get exactly what you pay for. You will just have to imagine the scene of small witches and spider men wandering around Lighthouse Park in search of sugar hits.
Florida Seafood Festival
Right on the heels of Halloween, before anyone’s blood sugar level has even somewhat returned to normal, the Florida Seafood Festival takes places in Apalachicola the first weekend in November. This year was the 58th edition of this event, and it reminds me of the county fairs I attended as a kid but without the bunnies and chickens. Instead of 4-H animals, this event features seafood …. and more. There are multiple live music performances. A King and Queen are crowned, and host various special events. There is a section with informational booths from a number of public agencies, sharing everything from marine research results to job opportunities in the public sector. There are hourly blue crab races for kids. There is a craft fair with jewelry, clothing, soaps, decorative items, and prepared foods. There is a massive selection of different food vendors, all of course focused on the main attraction: seafood. There are carnival rides, including the vomit-inducing kind. And speaking of vomit, the signature events of the weekend are the oyster shucking contest and the slightly nauseating oyster eating contest. The whole affair is set in a lovely waterfront park, and this year Saturday featured spectacular sunny weather.
We made sure to attend the oyster shucking and eating contests to see what the hype is all about. The shucking contest combines speed and accuracy. Contestants must pry open 18 oysters, cut the muscle connecting the flesh to the bottom shell, and arrange the oysters on a platter. Points are given for speed and for quality of presentation. While we have honed our oyster shucking skills since living here, it quickly became apparent that these contestants are in a totally different league than we mere mortals. The winner completed his plate in 1 minute 20 seconds…. approximately the amount of time it takes us to open a single oyster. Not surprisingly, the contestants are typically workers from either oyster bars or aquaculture operations. All that practice definitely shows! I’m pleased to say that our winner Honor Allen not only wears the Florida Seafood Festival Oyster Shucking crown, but is also the current reigning U.S. national oyster shucking champion. Yes, that’s actually a thing.
The rules of the oyster eating contest are pretty straightforward: 1. Eat as many oysters (pre-shucked, in little plastic tubs of 2 dozen) as possible in 15 minutes. 2. Don’t puke. That second rule can be hard to follow, and the audience is advised not to stand too close to the stage. At least one person dropped out in the course of the event, but avoided a public display of projectile vomiting. Thank goodness for small mercies. Contestants can choose from a wide array of condiments to help facilitate the oyster binge, but the top competitors mostly stuck to eating the oysters unadorned, straight from the container. The winner (if that’s the right term) managed to choke down over 9 dozen oysters. I am woozy just thinking about it.
Mid-November means getting ready for Thanksgiving, but it also means getting ready for the Christmas season that immediately follows. You’ll notice that I call it the “Christmas season” and not the “holiday season.” Trust me when I say that gestures at interfaith holiday acknowledgement are not part of the scene here. There is no sad little menorah placed haphazardly next to a creche. Nope, it is pure Christmas here… a big change from the multicultural approach we were accustomed to in more urban areas. We are not religious, but we can get behind festive lights and cookies and artificial snowmen, so we are here for the Christmas. Every year the main avenue through our central business district is decorated for Christmas, and putting everything together is a community affair. In our prior homes, there were always vendors who set up holiday decorations but here things are totally different. The Saturday before Thanksgiving we joined with a group of neighbors to help hang lights on the scores of palm trees that line the main boulevard. With a good turnout and plenty of ladders to go around, the project was done in just a few hours.
Lighting of the Palms
After all the hard work of installing the lights, we were anxious to find out how they looked! The official lighting of the palms was on the evening of December 3, but there was much more than the mere flipping of a light switch. The lighting of the palms was followed by a parade of creatively decorated golf carts exuding holiday spirit. Over at the lighthouse, guests enjoyed hot chocolate, coffee, and cookies, and kids were able to play holiday games, write letters to Santa, and even meet with the big guy himself after he arrived via fire truck. Lighthouse Park was alight with festive decorations, including some with local themes like sea life and dogs.
These sorts of activities are finally helping us feel at home in our new community. I’ve written before about the challenges of being involved in community while on the road. On one level it’s easy to make friends on the road; the state and national parks where we love to camp are full of people who enjoy hiking, wildlife, nature, and camping, just like us. On the other hand, constantly being on the move means that in-person interactions with friends are fleeting and unpredictable. It’s hard to get enmeshed with local volunteer efforts for the same reasons. One of our goals in establishing a home base was to put down some roots in our new area to feel connected to friends and neighbors. The pandemic and the related shutdown of most gatherings made that harder to accomplish at first, but the return of relatively normal life has finally started to give us those opportunities. We are deeply grateful to have dear friends and fellow RVers Eric and Laurel (Raven and Chickadee) living nearby to share much-needed fellowship and go on outings together. Plus, we’re making new friends among the very eclectic group of people who have found their way to the Forgotten Coast. The new house is definitely becoming a home.