A White Sand Christmas: Discover the Magic of a Coastal Holiday in Gulf Shores



Santa at the Flora Bama Orange Beach Al

It was when the smoke alarm went off for the second time that Thanksgiving morning that Nana entered the kitchen to announce:“I know what I want for Christmas.”

I pulled my head—and the smoldering remains of my pie crust—from the oven and replied, “Oh yeah? What's that?” 

We want to spend Christmas the old-fashioned way. Grandpa and I want to celebrate the holiday at Gulf Shores.”

“I'll do what I can.”

Historically, Nana and Grandpa are impossible to shop for. They dislike getting clothes more than their grandchildren. They reject new technology. Gift cards lack authenticity. And for the past three years, Nana has re-gifted my heartfelt, personalized Christmas present—a framed family photo—to me for Mother's Day.

A trip to an unforgettable destination might just be the perfect gift. 

It has been 10 years since we last celebrated Christmas at the Gulf. Between busy work and school schedules, the waves of time eroded what was once a tradition for the whole family.

I smiled remembering our last Gulf Christmas together when we saw the Annual Christmas Lighted Boat Parade. Megan, my oldest, was two. She raised her chubby arm, pointed at the glowing ships floating by in the chilly dusk, and squealed, “Lies!” for she could not yet say lights.

So, when I pitched a re-vamped Christmas at Gulf Shores for Nana and Grandpa to my brother Adam and our baby sister Elise, they happily agreed to forego to the de-facto holiday treatment, plenary with powder-coated pines and wool-clad carolers, for one more likely to feature Tommy Bahama-donning songsters and white sandy beaches. I hummed to the tune of “It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” as I booked our 4,500-square-foot beach house, the aptly titled “Beach Dream.” The trip was official.

Upon arrival, I was in awe by the intricate detail of “Beach Dream”: Arched entryways, crown molding, and granite countertops came together for an impressive interior design that danced across my vision like architectural sugarplums. There was more than enough space for the family to spread out, while still being together.

As we settled into our holiday home, we heard a booming knock.

“Who's that? Santa?” My nephew Chris mused, opening the door.

“Better! It's the caterers from Cobalt Restaurant with a no-fuss dinner of crawfish and Andouille gumbo, potato salad, jambalaya, roasted pork loin…” My mouth was watering.

“Stop! You had me at gumbo!” Adam punned.

Everyone laughed as I directed the caterers to the counter bar where they could set everything up.

Meanwhile cocktails made the rounds, holiday films rolled on the big screen, tinsel flew, and after having their fill of Cobalt's finest, the husbands dashed into the night to find a Christmas tree for the children to trim. The decorating party ongoing, I snuck upstairs and placed two framed 3x5s of childhood family holiday photos on Nana's nightstand. One was a group shot of the whole family in front of our aluminum Christmas tree 20 years earlier; the other was of Adam, Elise, and me on Santa's knee.

“You couldn't resist,” Nana's voice surprised me.

“I thought you were downstairs.” She didn't answer as she closely admired the photos. She wrapped her arms around me like she did was I was small and whispered, “I think I'll keep these.”  

Lighted Christmas Tree at The Wharf Orange Beach Al

The next day we took the kids Holiday Ice-Skating at the Wharf in Orange Beach.

After hitting the rink, we languidly shopped along the Wharf's Main Street, took photos by the giant Christmas tree in front of the Compleat Angler, and enjoyed “one of the best meals I've ever had,” (according to Grandpa) at the Compleat Angler Seafood Grille & Bar.

On Christmas Eve day we built sandmen instead of snowmen on the sugar-white beach outside of our abode. In the evening, we made a pilgrimage to nearby Bellingrath Gardens to view the famous Magic Christmas in Lights, where from Thanksgiving to the New Year, the gardens transform into a wonderland of twinkling holiday nostalgia. We even sipped hot cocoa while the kids amused us all with incomprehensible declarations of unmitigated joy.

On Christmas morning, I was awoken by the scent of bourbon, orange peel, cinnamon, and cloves. What is that intoxicating aroma? It was five a.m. and a new family record, as it was the first time that we awoke before our children on Christmas Day.

Warmly wrapped in robes and slippers, we started downstairs to partake in Nana's spiced coffee but stopped short at the sight of Nana and Grandpa snuggled together by the Christmas tree, watching the sunrise over the Gulf. I slipped my phone out of my pocket and silently snapped a few photos of my parents' embrace. Quiet as mice, we ascended the stairs, leaving Grandpa and Nana to enjoy their gift: A rare moment of intimacy at their beach on Christmas.

Less than an hour later, our children ran in to “wake us up” announcing that it was Christmas morning. I'll always remember my greatest joy that day was seeing Nana and Grandpa's faces light up as their grandchildren burst into the great room to embrace them and wish them Merry Christmas.

Most of all, I'll remember that Nana's gift was the one that reignited our family's tradition of spending Christmas at Gulf Shores, making memories, and passing along our dreams of a White Sand Christmas to our children.

Plan your Coastal Holiday Getaway to Gulf Shores with many beach houses to make this season memorable and fun for the whole family!

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