My family is large. Combined, my two older sisters and I have seven kids. Add to that each of our husbands and our parents, and our family holidays transform into a herd of seven kids under 10, six parents chasing them and one set of grandparents. (And a partridge in a pear tree.) Add to those holiday get-togethers the cold, wet weather that often accompanies Thanksgiving and Christmas in the Northeast, and we’d have too many people of all ages stuck inside one home for days on end.
Simply put: it wasn’t a way to spend a holiday meant to celebrate thankfulness. And it wasn’t long after one of these holiday visits that a light bulb finally went off: Why not spend the holidays in the same place that we spend our summer vacation? We’ll head to the beach. After all, it’s about spending time together—and making sure that it’s quality time.
This year, we were going to experience the holidays in the Outer Banks, a 200-mile string of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina. More specifically, we chose to head to the northern part of the island to Corolla in Currituck County, where our family has been renting the same house for decades. Like plenty of houses in Corolla, it truly fits a large, multi-generation family for a beach vacation and checks off every criteria our crew wants/needs:
My parents took me and my sisters here when we were growing up to play with our cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents, from several states and we all loved it. The short boardwalk, which was well-maintained, from the house to the beach allowed us to easily tote beach chairs, coolers, tents, sand pails and pretty much everything else under the beach ball sun you can imagine. The beaches of Corolla and Carova aren’t terribly populated, even in the peak summer months. And while the beach was certainly one of the highlights, it was some of the off-sand activities that really solidified the fact that a week-long vacation at the beach together was the best way to spend a summer vacation and the holidays.
Sure, the bulk of our days were spent building sandcastles and teaming up for games of bocce ball on the beach while my golden retriever, Sunny, ran alongside the surf. But when we needed a break from the sun and sand there were plenty of options that didn’t involve sunscreen. First thing in the morning, a few of us would head to Duck Donuts. There, we picked our sinful poison—chocolate glaze with maple bacon pieces for me, please—and sipped our hot coffees. Nothing like a good ol’ sugar rush first thing in the morning. During the cooler months, grabbing that cup of coffee to warm you up from the inside out was priceless. As adults, we relished the fact that—for this meal at least—we didn’t have any dishes to do; just messy little chocolate-covered mouths to wipe down.
By then, the shops at open-air shopping destination Timbuck II were open and, as was tradition, we headed right to the Cotton Gin to find the perfect Christmas ornament to commemorate our time at the beach this year with our family. Then, we walked over to Kitty Hawk Kites where the kiddos scoured the store for the perfect kite to give their Nanni and Poppi, a gift my 72-year-old father would surely love. (My four-year-old daughter settled on a Disney Princess Elsa one, and we couldn’t help but chuckle a bit imagining my dad toss it up in the air year after year.) My middle sister headed to Nags Head Hammocks, where she and my brother in law settled on the perfect swing for their front porch, a constant reminder for them of the amazing times we’ve had together at the beach.
By far our coolest adventure as a group, though, was our visit to the historic Currituck Beach Lighthouse had the kids pumped about catching a glimpse of pirates and “big ships” from the top. The 220-step, winding climb to the all-red-brick lighthouse top is well worth it. From there, we saw Currituck Sound, the Atlantic Ocean and Corolla; a view that truly showed the layout of the Outer Banks.
Afterward, we made a point to have all of our gear ready to go for crabbing at Historic Corolla Park by the lighthouse. This simple crabbing experience—all you need is a net, string and some bait to catch a crab or two—not only got the kids excited about seeing actual real live crabs, but it was also relaxing as we tossed our traps and eagerly waited to pull them back up to see what we’d caught. Though we didn’t catch much more than some underwater plants and a tiny fish or two, the kids went wild at the sight of our “bounty” and we laughed as they danced along the docks, a move that surely would’ve resulted in someone knocking over a lamp had we been cooped up indoors during the holidays.
Looking back on the laughter, the sunsets, the seafood dinners and the simple fun we had as our big family, it became clear that what was once a family tradition of mine growing up would soon become one for our kids, too. It’s what really worked for our family—a whole lot more excitement and fun than we’d ever imagined possible with such a boisterous group. Currituck was truly one of the only beach destinations where we could gather as a large family, year after year, and enjoy our time together. The biggest question we have is this: Why in the world didn’t we think of doing this sooner?