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Memories and (Tall) Tales from Christmas on the Oregon Coast

Published 12/24/21 at 6:32 AM PST
By Andre' GW Hagestedt

Memories and (Tall) Tales from Christmas on the Oregon Coast

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(Oregon Coast) – The holidays on the Oregon coast have always been a rather special place to me. It's a curious mix of the rugged (i.e. lots of wind) and the cheery, though strings of lights aren't as thickly-laden along the beaches because, well, they're not that sturdy. It's more of an effort to keep them up and twinkling. (Above: Cannon Beach)

Yet the atmosphere is always a decidedly festive one, and some spots really know how to light it up. Having covered the Oregon coast for over 20 years now, I've seen and documented a lot of displays, but the experiences themselves have been priceless.

I grew up with an absolute Christmas madhouse of sorts: my mother was native German, where Xmas was a wildly colorful and multi-layered affair, which she transported fully to our home in Salem. So the holidays are woven into me pretty deeply. My favorite memories of childhood involve densely-packed lights and European decorations all around, and that inimitable smell of the Christmas tree. That, coupled with her own European treats and those elaborate ones her relatives sent over, made the whole thing a powerful, multi-sensory experience. At one point in our teens, all four of us were classically trained musicians in some way, and my band director dad would lead the backup ensemble of him, my brother and I as my mom sang Christmas tunes in Deutsch. It was an intense, rich period.

After she passed in the ‘90s, none of the three of us had the energy to put up the mighty displays of Mutti, but we've gathered pretty faithfully over the decades for a new kind of fun and camaraderie. Plus, I'd always get to hang with my brother's two golden retrievers, whom I call my “fury nephews.” These days, nothing is better at Christmas than getting hopped on by two goldie goofballs.


Seaside

When it came to the Oregon coast, few pleasures matched those long commutes between Newport and Manzanita for a handful of years getting to see all those light displays. Especially impressive were the hints of lights at Garibaldi as you came up from the south, and the bay was usually enshrouded by some kind of mist or another. It refracted everything and made it fuzzy, but at some point you could always see the giant G floating above it all, sometimes dressed up in holiday finery. The Coast Guard house was often smothered in glowing pleasantries as well.

One of my favorites from decades ago was the lighted holiday display at the outlet mall in Lincoln City (above), which had lights in the shapes of reindeer and other holiday fixtures. Another one was and still is Seaside's beautiful holiday décor, where the whole of downtown changes into a beachy winter wonderland. More colorful sea stars and other whimsical shapes pop up around Broadway and other parts of the north coast burgh.


One time I popped over to the Oregon coast on a Christmas Eve, when Highway 26 had recently been covered in snow, so I had a white Christmas for a little while. Though it was nighttime, I had to pull over and take long exposures of this snowy world, which seemed to simply glow in the faint illumination of the night. Then, couple that with passing cars leaving giant streaks of light, and you have a scene that's decidedly Christmasy.

Don't let that peaceful look fool you though: at night, out on Highway 26 in the deep dark, it's almost pitch black to the human eye. Even after your eyes adjust, it's a bit jarring and scary out here. It doesn't help that cars whiz by at nearly 60 mph, and you never know what condition someone is in. Your mind wanders to things like crazed wolves, coyotes….and amusingly, even Bigfoot? Don't get me wrong, it's still gorgeous out here on this snow-lined road and fairy tale holiday forest. It's just got some spooky aspects. Thank goodness I'm a big horror movie fan, so that scare is kind'a fun.


Finally, a bit before my final destination of Manzanita, I make it into an extremely quiet Cannon Beach. It's late at night so the sidewalks have long rolled up, but the place is downright magical with its lights. Bruce's Candy Kitchen has a smile-inducing display, the little mall is like a sea of stars, and much more. A calm wind, a steady chill, but otherwise absolute silence in the midst of this real holiday glow: it was all a bit unforgettable. I'm so thankful I got pics of it, however.

One of my favorite Christmas tales is of an old friend in one coastal town (I won't mention the when, who or where), who had been the traditional Santa for the local kids on and off for a number of years. The guy has always been one of my best pals of all time, and part of that was his rather amusing drinking habits on occasion. I have no doubt he smelled of liquor a tad while hosting kids on his lap, as he had nipped a wee bit beforehand. At least he did on this particular holiday.


Manzanita during the holidays always does it up right

His beard was awfully itchy, he told me, and as he got off duty, walking up the street not too far from where he played Santa, he took off his beard. Apparently, a bit too soon. There were still one or two kids within sight of him and one small lad started crying when he spotted Santa removing his beard. Not that this was alcohol related, it was just hilarious as hell.

Other favorite holiday tales of mine mostly include drinking at local bars in places like Manzanita, Newport, Depoe Bay, Lincoln City or Cannon Beach. Ah, there's nothing like the holiday SPIRITS. Plenty of good times I've had in December or New Year's Eve at places like Wing Wa in Depoe Bay, Nina's in Wheeler (magnificent retro bar back then, now gone), Warren House in Cannon Beach (miss you Shawn), and one particularly wild NY Eve in Newport at a bar I can't remember the name of. I do remember the kooky conga line, however.

The best ever NY Eve was in Manzanita, when I joined in their infamous midnight parade, and two different girls kissed me. Awesome. There, people sauntered (or staggered) down Laneda, banging on drums, other noisemakers, and reveling in the streets in creative ways that would've made Paris of the 1920s jealous.

There's more to the holiday glow on the Oregon coast than just the lights.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees nearly 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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