No one is quite sure when Manteo first started lighting that large fir tree on the waterfront at Christmas. It probably doesn’t matter all that much.  What does matter is what a remarkable evening the Manteo Annual Tree lighting is. 

It seem to take all of the best elements of small town life, gift wrap the contents in song and dance and spread the joy of the Holiday season.

Little girls take the stage to dance, youth and high school choirs perform, a local church dance group swirls around the stage. And all of it takes place on the front steps of the old Dare County Courthouse, an iconic building built in 1903.

This years gathering seemed like the largest in some time. Certainly the Brunswick stew the Mt. Olivet United Methodist Church hands out every year seemed to run out earlier than usual…as did the hot chocolate that is usually on hand.

Santa Clause, of course, made an appearance, and then took up temporary residence upstairs in the Courthouse. Now the home of the Dare County Arts Council, the building got full use tonight as hundreds of kids, holding their parent’s hand made their way to present their lists.

It seems apropos that Santa was sitting in what was once the Dare County Court. He was, after all, sitting in judgement of the children’s requests—although his judgments seemed universally benign and positive.

Tomorrow it’s the annual parade—another Manteo tradition that seems to have started some time ago without any sure knowledge of just when that was.

The Town of Duck will also hold their tree lighting tomorrow, although their tree is a stack of crab pots shaped like a tree with lights draped over it. The day also includes a visit for St. Nick—the Duck Santa always seems to be on his game—and entertainment on the Town Green.