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Flip the Switch on Christmas Spirit at Brookgreen Gardens

The Grand Strand is home to one of the most acclaimed holiday events on the East Coast. Brookgreen Gardens' annual presentation of the Nights of a Thousand Candles celebration in Murrells Inlet is a memorable experience for people of all ages. For 10 evenings during the month of December, the 9,100-acre botanical sculpture garden transforms into a naturally illuminated winter wonderland for a unique experience that is sure to get you and your group into the Christmas spirit.

Located on a former rice plantation about 20 miles south of Breakers Resort, Brookgreen Gardens is filled with a wide variety of colorful flowers, majestic trees and impressive statues as a part of the year-round attraction. But during the Night of a Thousand Candles event, hand-lit candles and other lights lend the gardens an added glow while giving guests an incredible opportunity to see the facility at night.

Held Dec. 1-3, 8-10 and 15-18, Nights of a Thousand Candles attracts large crowds of visitors and locals who come back year after year to enjoy the decorations and displays, live entertainment, holiday shopping, and dinner and concessions. Bands take the main stage under a tent on the garden grounds, while carolers and handbell choirs perform throughout the compound. Patrons can stroll from section to section and see something new around every corner.

The first thing you may notice is that the name "Night of a Thousand Candles" grossly underestimates the actual number of illuminations at Brookgreen Gardens. More than 5,500 flameless candles line the walkways. The massive Christmas tree is draped with more than 70,000 lights, and even more hang from the ancient live oak trees and the approximately 1,400 sculptures that are on display. There are even floating candles in the fountains.

Brookgreen Gardens also hosts other activities to inspire some holiday spirit. Indoor galleries and greenhouses are filled with a colorful array of poinsettias, orchids and other flowers, and events include storytelling and the Gullah Culture Center's Christmas display. Guests can also enjoy their favorite flavors of the season at concession tents, like hot cocoa and apple cider. Those looking for more substantial food will be satisfied with Seafood Chowder and She Crab Soup.

For Breakers Resort guests making the trip to Night of a Thousand Candles, it's a great opportunity take advantage of the award-winning restaurants, shops and scenic sights of the South Carolina Lowcountry. Before the lights come on at Brookgreen Gardens, visit the breathtakingly beautiful Huntington Beach State Park, where you can tour a Spanish-style castle only steps from the beach. There are hiking and biking trails that take you through maritime forests and past pristine wetlands, where you can see a wide range of native wildlife, such as alligators, otters and various birds of prey.

Visitors can also have lunch or dinner in the self-proclaimed “Seafood Capital of South Carolina” in Murrells Inlet, or the charmingly shabby restaurants of Pawleys Island. One must-stop is the Murrells Inlet Marshwalk, a wooden walkway along the waterfront that leads to more than a dozen dining hot spots. Or enjoy a family feast at Brookgreen Gardens' on-site dining facility, The Old Kitchen, where seafood, barbecue, chicken bog, and vegetarian options are available during the Night of a Thousand Candles celebration. Reservations are strongly recommended.

The Brookgreen Gardens’ gates open at 3 p.m. each night to give guests a chance to explore the gardens by daylight and see the candles being lit in preparation for the event. Catch a lovely sunset over the salt marsh while the lights come on and remain lit until 10 p.m. Admission is $14 for members and $18 for the general public. For children ages 4-12, tickets are $8 for members and $10 for the general public. Call 843-235-6021 for group prices of 15 or more guests. For more information, visit www.brookgreengardens.org.