Christmas in Carmel is an experience like no other. The town is aglow with twinkle lights set against ivy-covered stone buildings. As you walk through town along brick sidewalks, you feel the chill of the fog, hear the crash of the surf and smell the scent of wood-burning fireplaces where visitors and locals are warming themselves with a hot cup of a variety of delicious concoctions. The windows are dressed and brimming with glittering jewelry, stunning art installations and every sort of unique gift you dare to find.
Just like any other town, we have a tree lighting event, but ours is one cut from a children's storybook. My first year here, I found myself standing in the middle of the town park, jaw dropped, wondering if I stumbled upon a movie set because never did I believe that there was a place that could exist like this. If I had known, I would've scheduled a weekend getaway with my family every year to Carmel-by-the-Sea for the tree lighting event.
Everything seems quite normal on the Friday the tree is lit. Town is full of people grabbing a bottle of wine from one of the many wine tasting rooms along with a decadent cheese from The Cheese Shop or doing some early Christmas shopping. Then as the afternoon closes in, everything begins to change. The main street that delivers Carmel all of it's visitors is called Ocean Avenue. The tree to be lit sits on Ocean at the entrance to town. For the celebration, Ocean Avenue is closed for a few blocks and transformed into a town square. Children begin to gather on risers placed in the street and just as they begin to sing Christmas carols, the candy stripers show up and serve hot cider and cookies out of the ambulances. The crowds gather, the smiles grow and you can feel the excitement emanating from the children in anticipation of the traditional visit from Santa.
Just as you've wrapped your hands around a warm cup of cider, you hear the fire engines announcing their arrival. Not only is Santa here, but he's brought Mrs. Clause and his elves too! The firetruck arrives at the town park and the elves help Mr. and Mrs. Clause get comfortable on a park bench where they settle in to listen to the wishes of a long line of eager and happy children. Inevitably the older children begin to toss a ball around in the back of the park while the parents happily socialize and wind down from the first week of December.
As the skies darken, everyone's attention is focused on the center of Ocean Avenue where school choirs are taking their turns singing to the community. Looking around you see proud parents, happy locals and tourists in awe of this magical moment they most likely stumbled upon.
Just when you think you've seen everything, a man in a top hat and dressed as the town crier stands on the risers with a large book in hand. Motioning his arms for everyone to come closer, he invites the town's children to come sit with him while he reads us all "The Night Before Christmas." The children's faces are lit with a glow of fascination and wonder because just like us adults, they can't believe this is real either. After the crowds quiet down and listen to the story, Santa and Mrs. Clause join the town crier and our mayor for the count down.
5 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 1 Merry Christmas!
We have twinkle lights year round in Carmel, so one would think it's impossible for this place to look anymore quaint, cozy and pretty after the tree and the thousands of other lights are lit, but it is. Your breath will be taken away. Once the cheers die down from the tree lighting, you hear the mayor invite everyone to gather in the Plaza to eat, drink and be merry together as guests of the town.
You need to come see for yourself. I promise that you will be amazed, and if you are from my generation, you will also find yourself wondering if this is all real or like the scene in the movie "Funny Farm."
I promise you that although you will experience magic during Christmas in Carmel, it's very much real.