Now that Thanksgiving is over, the Christmas season kicks off in full gear, and a Charleston beach house is a great launching pad to enjoy them all.

First up, a little follow-up on that previous blog about the Holiday Festival of Lights.  As I mentioned, it’s a super family-friendly fun event for all ages staying in your Charleston beach house.

Not surprisingly, it’s made several top ten lists of events around the country and even the globe.  It really is a super-fun thing to do, to both entertain your family/friends and also help get you all in the holiday frame of mind.

Also, as a special perk, the Holiday Festival of Lights is teaming up with the Lowcountry Food Bank to help combat hunger.  On Mondays through Thursdays, if you bring a non-perishable canned food item (and dog or cat food counts), you’ll get $5 off your vehicle’s admission to the festival.  In a past year this effort collected over 15,000 pounds of food, helping to provide more than 12,000 meals for those most in need.

The Holiday Festival of Lights runs from now through January 1st.

A blessed (and local) way to start the holidays near your Charleston beach house…

Never before have I seen more references to Black Friday… and Cyber Monday… weeks before the “official” ones that fall after Thanksgiving.  My inbox has been flooded with them; it’s actually getting beyond ridiculous.

If you do want to shop, remember that the Saturday after Thanksgiving has been dubbed “Small Business Saturday,” now in its seventh year, when you’re encouraged to shop local.  After all, why not shop in unique places that you can only find here, in the Lowcountry?

Lowcountry Local First, a group that encourages shopping in our neck of the woods, puts it this way:  “That means for every $100 spent at a local business, an average of $45 is recirculated into the Lowcountry, versus only $15 when that money is spent with a national chain store or corporation.”

See more about it here:  And for a more local take on it, this is from The Post & Courier:

Obviously, downtown Charleston has loads of local shopping options.  And if you’re heading onto the peninsula, here’s a link to a nifty voucher for two hours of free parking in many of the Charleston city garages, for use any time during the holiday season:

A peaceful place near your Charleston beach house

A peaceful place near your Charleston beach house

Amidst all that conspicuous consumption, it’s nice to take a moment to reflect on the true meaning of the season, to take a break from the commercial and meditate in a non-material realm.

One of the most spiritual places in the Lowcountry is a bit north of Charleston, near the town of Monck’s Corner (though it’s definitely out in the country).  I’m talking about Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist monastery on the banks of the Cooper River.  It’s located at 1098 Mepkin Abbey Road in Monck’s Corner, a doable drive from all our SC vacation rentals, be they Isle of Palms vacation rentals or Folly Beach rentals Charleston.  They are an especially scenic drive from a luxury house on Isle of Palms if you take the back way via Highway 41.  It’s even quicker than going the interstate, and it’s a lovely drive.


Every time I’ve been to Mepkin Abbey, I’ve come away feeling a special kind of peace that’s hard to describe.  It’s a peace that passes all understanding.

The monks have the gift of hospitality, and they welcome visitors for the day, or for a weekend or weeklong retreat.  The Abbey has a wonderful chapel (their services start at 3:00 a.m.) and library.  The grounds and gardens are gorgeous.  The famed publisher Henry Luce and his wife Clare Boothe Luce bought the land, which was originally the home of Henry Laurens, who succeeded John Hancock as president of the Continental Congress.  The Luces and Laurens are all buried on the grounds.

Mepkin's oak alley near your Charleston beach house

Mepkin’s oak alley near your Charleston beach house

In 1949, the Luces gave much of the land to 29 monks from Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky, who then established Mepkin Abbey on the land.  They live a life of simplicity, work and charity.  For years the brothers earned their living by raising wonderful fresh eggs, which they sold in area grocery stores and to local restaurants.  Due to an unfair and unethical smear campaign by some zealots at PETA, they were forced to close their egg production.  Now they earn money by raising gourmet mushrooms (shiitake and oyster) which are sold in local stores and served by the best restaurants in Charleston.  You can find them in Bi-Lo, just over the Connector from our Isle of Palms luxury rentals, as well as in Whole Foods and Publix.  The monks  produce more than 1,600 pounds of mushrooms a week.

Mepkin Abbey hosts numerous special events, including concerts and performances during the annual Spoleto Festival in May/June.

What’s come to be their best known and most beloved event, however, is their annual Crèche Festival, going on now.  Mepkin has a collection of more than 800 crèches, or nativity scenes, and each year around Thanksgiving and the beginning of Advent, they display a large number of them to the public.  The manger scenes come in all shapes and sizes, in all different media, from countries and cultures across the globe.

Over 80 volunteers help with the festival, transforming the library into a forest-like setting that makes an enchanting backdrop for the nativities.   Several other mangers are situated outside on the grounds.

This is from their website –
“Brothers, let us hasten to the Lord’s manger crib, but as far as we can let us first prepare ourselves by his grace to approach it. Then, in the company of the angels, with pure heart, a good conscience and unfeigned faith, let us sing to the Lord in the whole of our life and our monastic conversion: Glory to God in the highest and peace to all of good will.”

— Aelred of Rievaux – Sermon on the Nativity

This is the 14th installment of the festival, and what began with 1,500 visitors is now expected to host almost 10,000.

There is no charge, although donations are welcome to help them expand the collection.  You must, however, make a reservation, which can be booked online.  Last I checked they are officially booked up, but you can join the waiting list.  Tours are every half hour during the day from today through December 2nd.  If you’re in a Charleston beach house during those dates, this is a wholesome, meaningful thing to experience.

Here’s a link to Mepkin’s website, with more about the crèche festival:

Here’s a link to where you can book a spot:

Mepkin also has a terrific gift shop on site, where you can buy nativity scenes, dried mushrooms, mushroom compost (like gold for the gardener on your list), Christmas gifts, books, artwork and gourmet products from other monasteries.  If you’re staying in a beach house Charleston, it’s a great place to do some Christmas shopping or find something special – and Lowcountry local – to bring home as a memento for friends at home.

Charleston’s newspaper, The Post and Courier, had a feature article a while back with more about the annual tradition:

The photo up above is the cover of a book Mepkin published on the 10th anniversary of the festival, which has some wonderful photos from their collection.  (Photo credit: Mepkin Abbey).  It’s also available in the gift shop.

The holidays are a popular time for rental homes South Carolina, especially beach house rentals Charleston SC.  If you haven’t already booked one, you’d better hurry and give EP a call  –  we’ve got the best in luxury beach house rentals SC.

All best,
Lowcountry Lisa
your Isle of Palms vacation blogger