Christmas in Beachcomberland

By Paula Hilton


Christmas is such a special time. Something about all the lights and blow-up snowmen just tickle my fancy. And for me, it’s even more special because I live in beautiful Beachcomberland surrounded by family. My parents, my sister and her family, and my adult children and their families all live just minutes away. And because of that, Christmas in particular is full of family traditions that we simply can’t do without. The Christmas Video is a great example of this.


It started back in the early ‘80s with the advent of the home video camera. Videocassettes cost $25 each back then, and the new system we purchased and lugged from the West Coast to the East Coast for Christmas cost a whopping $3,000. The thing was enormous, about the size of a Volkswagen, but we were thrilled to be able to Video Tape Our Every Movement.


That year I decided to write and film a video entitled What Shall We Get Mom and Dad for Christmas? which we decided we would film secretly and surprise them with on Christmas day.


The story was simple. My sister, her husband, my (then) husband and I would sit on the couch with the camera rolling as we discussed what we should get our parents for Christmas, suggesting impractical, outrageous gifts that represented our own interests and would be quickly dismissed.


All scenes were shot while my sister and I munched non-stop on various fattening and delicious holiday food while our svelte husbands looked on in disgust. Finally, at the end of the film, we cleverly turned the camera off, slipped a wrapped box into view, and then turned the camera back on, making it look like the box had magically appeared.


It was filmmaking at its finest, and comedy right on par with Saturday Night Live. And it was the start of a tradition. Every Christmas since, my parents wait eagerly for the “secret” Christmas video.


Our early attempts were pretty archaic, with mostly ridiculous stories, bad acting and tons of good intentions that somehow missed the mark. But as technology has evolved, so have our movies. Now I can take clips from family members anywhere and include them in the final project. I can grab them from social media, text messages, email or the cloud. I can add effects, voiceovers, music and still pictures, and edit to my heart’s content, creating entertaining and unforgettable illusions.


And the beauty of living in Beachcomberland is we can shoot just about anywhere. We aren’t confined to staying inside because of nasty, cold weather or a lack of suitable locations. Our area is bustling with beautiful and fun places to stage our scenes. We commandeered a miniature golf course one year. We filmed outside in a number of colorful shopping center parking lots. We’ve been in our front yards, back yards, streets, parks and beaches. One year, we filmed the entire thing on my sister’s 40-foot pontoon.


And you want to talk about helpful, friendly people? We’ve had complete strangers offer to film so we can all be in the shot, stand in the background to give the illusion of a crowd, and help out with cat calls from the sidelines. The weather and accommodating residents in our area just can’t be beat.


So, what’s on the agenda for this year? It’s going to be a reality show where all 20 family members trek across the Emerald Coast looking for the perfect gift for my parents. At the end, they figure out they had the perfect gift all along…


Each other, right here in Beachcomberland.

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