Harkers Island will be aglow as the Bring Back the Lights group hosts the Community Christmas Gathering starting at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Bridge Downeast Ramsey Center on Harkers Island.
There will be refreshments, a tree lighting, speakers and a community choir.
Organizers are collecting Christmas lights of all kinds for Ocracoke, which was devastated from Hurricane Dorian in September.
“This has been an amazing project for Harkers Island and the Museum is proud to be part of it,” Karen Amspacher, Core Sounds Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center executive director, said in a recent email. “The Island Anchors are spreading to other islands too including Ocracoke, Hatteras, Smith Island and Tangier, thanks to people who have come here and seen the lights and felt the community Christmas Spirit, and want to share it with their island communities.”
Lights will be collected through Sunday, Dec. 1. Drop off locations are The Bridgedown East, the Core Sound Museum Store at 806 Arendell St. in Morehead City and Chadwick’s Tire in Otway.
Judging for the Cab & Barbara Ramsey Island Decorating Contest will be Friday, Dec. 6, with winners announced at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8 at the museum on Harkers Island.
The official island anchors are available only at the museum store in Morehead City. Supply is limited, and the anchors are handmade.
The Bring Back the Lights campaign is an important Christmas tradition on the island.
According to Emma Rose Guthrie, or as the Islanders call her, Emmer, the island tradition started back in the 1900s when the people of Shackleford Banks and Cape Lookout started moving to Harkers Island.
“Because of the storms, the banks were almost destroyed so many of the people moved over to Harkers Island, just a short distance away,” Ms. Guthrie said. “Even as they were moving, they were always celebrating Christmas. There are stories told over and over of their Christmas traditions.”
Ms. Guthrie said back then, life was simple. People cut down their Christmas trees from the wooded area of the banks and carried them to their new homes. The children would decorate the trees with pine cones, paper chains and sometimes seashells.
“We had no electric lights, not even a bridge. But in the late 30’s, thanks to Earl Davis and Maxwell Willis (and others), we got both,” Ms. Guthrie recalled. “We owned our own electric company, named the R.E.A. and we were very proud. The first light bill was $2.50 for everyone.”
According to Ms. Guthrie, electricity changed everything, including Christmas.
“Electric lights on the tree (were) magical and over the years the lights grew and grew from house to house, churches and businesses. You have never seen so many lights,” she said. “There were Christmas programs at the school and all the churches and everyone cooked for weeks to celebrate Jesus’ birth.”
However, over the years, life on the island changed. People no longer decorated their homes, and many of the summer homes sat dark and empty during the holiday season.
A few years ago, a group of women on the island said they were going to bring back the lights, and the Bring Back the Lights campaign was started.
“We loved the lights on Davis and that inspired everyone to work hard to bring back the lights and the Christmas Spirit to our community,” Ms. Guthrie said. “We decided that our Island symbol would be an anchor, an ‘Island Anchor’ that would represent our fishing heritage and the fact that Jesus, born on Christmas, is our Anchor too.”
Richard Gillikin designed the island anchors and Andy Scott makes the decoration. The anchors can now be seen hanging around the county year-round. They are lit with blue lights in remembrance of islanders who have died.
Randy and Tiffany Ramsey host the Cab & Barbara Ramsey Island Decorating Contest and the community hosts a “Charlie Tree” lighting at The Bridge Downeast.
“Charlie was a special little boy from our community who died many years ago and we remember him every Christmas and dedicate his tree to all Island children,” Ms. Guthrie said.
Fundraisers are hosted throughout the year to raise money for the Bring Back the Lights campaign.