What happens when motorists see 400 Kris Kringles jogging down Old Shell Road? First, they swear off eggnog. Then, they realize, this is the Santa Run, a 2-mile Christmas Eve dash over asphalt.
The white-bearded wonders’ starting point is at Carpe Diem Coffee & Tea Company, which is the charity event’s sponsor. It is called “the Santa Run, ” but there are subordinate clauses. “In addition, we have runners dressed as any holiday symbol imaginable, ” says the Spring Hill establishment’s owner, Tomi Sue Rusling Mayer. “We usually have a mix of sprinting Christmas trees, elves, reindeer and others.” Participants include physically superb marathoners, as well as those not needing padding for their Santa suits. Proceeds from this event go to the Ronald McDonald House.
Carpe Diem Coffee & Tea Co. • 4072 Old Shell Road. 304-0448. springhillcoffeeroasters.com
Auld Lang Shine
Visit Fairhope on New Year’s Eve and have a ball – one made of more than 30, 000 lights. The great ball of Fairhope is suspended 100 feet above town and descends as the clock strikes midnight. Then, the Eastern Shore rocks. “We’ve been doing this since 2000, ” says the city’s special events coordinator, Alex Robinson. “Residents and visitors are invited to bring their families for New Year’s dancing in the street, a live band, fireworks and the midnight ball drop.” Happy New Year, and y’all have a ball!
Fairhope New Year’s Eve Celebration • Downtown Fairhope. 929-1466. cofairhope.com
One of the prettiest sights in one of the most glorious buildings in Mobile is the 25-foot-tall Christmas tree display at the historic Battle House Hotel. The massive Scotch pine replica centers the main lobby. “It takes a day and a half to set it up, ” notes hotel general manager Margo Gilbert. “Twenty people work all night to build the tree and add 2, 500 ornaments. Our guests wake up to a beautiful Christmas tree in the morning.” Imagine the excitement of wide-eyed toddlers asking parents how Santa erected such a tree that was not there when they went to bed. Imagine the excitement of wide-eyed parents trying to explain how Santa did it.
The Battle House A Renaissance Hotel and Spa • 26 N. Royal St. • 888-236-2427.
Deck the Boughs
At Robert Moore & Co. Christmas Town and Village, 83 fully tinseled, baubled, beaded Christmas trees sparkle every day. “Tree decorations are changed out every six months, ” says general manager Larry Heard. “Our staff is very good at spotting what’s new.” And on the branches the bounty goes. Of course, Santa and snowmen are always in vogue, but for 2012, a cool Yule demands penguins, reindeer and dolls, oh my! “Classic ornaments are popular too, ” Heard adds. “Nostalgia is hot.” Anything else is so 2011.
Robert Moore Christmas Town and Village • 4213 Halls Mill Road. 661-3608. robertmoorechristmastown.com
Let Them Eat Fruitcake
About 1, 000 fruitcakes from Tanner’s Pecans & Candies will sell between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Please do not confuse Tanner’s delectable marriage of fruit, cake, pecans and sherry with dime-store imitations as heavy as a doorstop. Do you want fruitcake from a super-center sales associate who just scooped guppies from an aquarium? Me neither.
“Good fruitcake must rest, or age, similar to fine wine, ” says owner Danny Fox. “I started making mine in July.” One fruity batch yields about 40 of the 2-pound cakes. Tanner’s also makes a no-cake fruitcake. Fox explains, “It’s basically the fruit and nuts bonded with condensed milk.” Be still, my happy heart.
Tanner’s Pecans & Candies • 10 Springdale Blvd. 473-4560. tannerspecan.com
Christmas Is in the Air
Chilly Willy, the penguin balloon, holds 8, 200 cubic feet of helium. At 25 feet tall, he is easily spotted at the Mobile Christmas & Holiday Parade, Dec. 15 in downtown Mobile. “Chilly’s weight is equal to 1, 466 pounds of helium, ” says parade spokesperson Harriet Shade. “Once full, the balloon can lift up to 515 pounds into the air.” Nothing dampens holidays more than a penguin flyaway. To ensure it does not happen, at least 10 people hold the balloon’s ropes. It keeps Chilly Willy the penguin from becoming Chilly Willy Lost in Space.
Mobile Christmas & Holiday Parade • Downtown Mobile. 208-1550.mobileholidayparade.com
Light It Up
A part-time army of 68 of Santa’s little helpers assists the Bellingrath Gardens’ full-timers building Magic Christmas in Lights. Their yule-tools begin constructing holiday hardware the week after Labor Day. The job completes just in the St. Nick of time, a few days before Thanksgiving.
Technicians literally work down to the wire running wires. They thread Christmas lights through shrubbery, erect glowing displays on lawns, and hang giant ornaments from enormous trees. On the day after Thanksgiving, the garden’s night sky illuminates with 3 million electric lights – also known as Alabama Power Company’s employee Christmas bonus.
“Last year 65, 000 people attended, ” says Bellingrath Gardens and Home spokesperson, Leslie Schraeder. The event runs from Nov. 23 to Dec. 31 (closed on Christmas Day).
Bellingrath Gardens and Home • 12401 Bellingrath Gardens Road, Theodore. 973-2217. bellingrath.org
Rock Around the Clock
We all know about Mobile’s New Year’s Eve MoonPie Drop. But let’s run the numbers: The electric pastry is 12 feet in diameter, 600 pounds, and drops 34 stories, the length of the RSA BankTrust Building. It is perched near the building’s top, but can be retracted into an adjacent MoonPie shelter in the event of hurricane or reindeer damage.
Not to be outdone by its sister sky-scraper, the RSA Battle House Tower’s crowning bright holiday lights are visible 30 miles in Mobile Bay and the Gulf. The seasons’ greetings beacon shines the light on Christmas from Alabama’s tallest building. RSA skyscrapers light up our lives. Batteries not included.
RSA BankTrust Building • 107 St. Francis St.
RSA Battle House Tower • 11 N. Water St. mobilenewyear.com
One or more babies are born every Christmas Day in Mobile. “We had just one last year, ” says Leslie Carley, nurse manager of labor and delivery, USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital. “But the year before, we had nine, including triplets!” And for parents bringing three newborns home for the holidays, staying awake for New Year’s Eve is not an issue.
It’s a special time in infant care. “Our nurses work 24/7, including on Christmas, ” Carley adds. “Seeing babies born and assisting with the delivery on Christmas Day is a blessing to witness.” The sweet little joy to the world is placed in a Christmas stocking and given a card signed by the medical team, making the event memorable from here to maternity.
University of South Alabama Children’s & Women’s Hospital • 1700 Center St. 415-1000. usahealthsystem.com/usacwh
About 3, 000 orders of Heavenly Hash are heavenly stashed at Mobile’s Visitation Monastery. There is nun better. But do not seek the secret recipe; It’s nun of your business.
“No one is allowed back there, ” laughs Monastery Gift Shop manager, Russie Blackwell. “The kitchen, the formula, even the cooks are off public view.” We do know it involves a three-day process, every Monday through Wednesday. Day 1: Homemade marshmallow and chocolate are spread over a huge marble table. Day 2: Additional tweaking, chocolate and nuts are added as the mixture cures and hardens. Day 3: The process is finalized, and the candy wrapped, packaged and sold.
The Visitation Monastery Gift Shop • 2300 Spring Hill Ave. 471-4106.
The Buck Stops Here
On Dasher! On Dancer! On 20-foot plaster replica of a deer in front of Pinebrook Shopping Center! Mobile’s endearing deer poses in the serene gentle wilderness where the deer and the antelope play — Airport Boulevard. That’s right; It’s on the Port City’s busiest street. Rudolph with your nose so bright, help me beat this traffic light. Year-round, shoppers behold the stately stag statue, but at Christmastime, the 20-foot-long plaster deer is decorated head to hoof for the holidays, including the obligatory red nose, making Airport Boulevard a nasal passage.
Pinebrook Shopping Center • Airport Boulevard at McGregor Avenue. pinebrookmobile.com
text by Emmett Burnett • illustrations by Marie Katz