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Marching Among the Lowcountry Palmettos

Inflatable reindeer heads mounted on parade marchers dressed in shorts accompany bizarre green aliens…and a Santa looking more like like a red and white balloon with hands and feet…all marched together behind a tightly localized blizzard this year among the Lowcountry Palmettos. Yes it is that time of year again; time for the Bluffton Christmas parade!

In years past I’ve attended as an onlooker, and now twice as a photographer and child wrangler for my son’s travel soccer club.  The younger children sat on the soccer club’s float throwing candy and waiving, while the older kids dribbled soccer balls along the route, some keeping the balls in the air an astonishing distance along the parade route.  The throng of onlookers waived, cheered, and shouted out names of friends they spotted in the parade.  Many in the crowd were also adorned in festive holiday wear.

This parade is an essential part of Lowcountry Christmas festivities.  Since Hilton Head Island does not have its own Christmas parade, island locals and recent transplants make the short trek across the bridges to Historic Bluffton.  The holiday parade carries fanciful floats along a three-mile stretch of road with sweeping majestic oaks draped in Spanish moss and interspersed with Palmetto trees.

Girls adorned in ballet dresses, sports teams from the tiny to university age, and gymnasts tossed high in the air march between festive pets with owners in tow. Insurance groups trying to offset customer unfriendly policies and politicians and pageant queens in cars pass on by.  This year the much coveted and stiffly regimented Marine Band from neighboring Parris Island participated, joining a number of less regimented local bands to give a high decibel count to the event. Trucks with sirens and Santas hanging from hook and ladders were also part of the mix. 


Children eagerly stood along the edges with outstretched bags, waiting for the participants to deliver goodies.  The lush green foliage provided a shady canopy from the sun above as parade goers lined the roads, enjoying the mid-seventies degree weather.

Hilton Head and Bluffton locals and visitors alike came out to see the parade pass by with all its eclectic allure, unapologetically renowned for its eccentric feel.  We may not have the fanfare or bedazzling arrangements of floats a big city may provide, but we are proud of our annual parade. 

This spectacle is always animal-centric.  Horses are ever-present, and pets show up both in the parade and along the route to take it all in.  We, the onlookers, sip our favorite beverages and hoist our tiniest children on our shoulders so they can see. The older kids slip in front to gather candy as the parade participants pass on by.  Friends and family, tourists and strangers, Blufftonians and Hilton Head Islanders alike find themselves laughing together, sharing their favorites and discussing holiday plans. 

For Hilton Head Island residents…a melting pot of people from around the country who fell in love with the lure of the Lowcountry…the Bluffton Christmas parade is a reminder of the area’s hospitality and its dedication to the preservation of the natural beauty that makes the island such a unique destination.

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