Since 1979, Sanibel and Captiva residents and visitors have gathered on the shores of Lighthouse Beach to celebrate Christmas Eve through scripture and song.
Organized by the Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ, this annual service-by-candlelight attracts hundreds of residents, visitors and worshippers of many denominations, all uniting on Sanibel's sandy shores to rejoice in the spirit of the season.
"It's a fairly informal sort of service made up of lessons and carols and texts of the season," said Reverend John Danner of the Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ. "As we present the Christmas story in a very conversational sort of style, Christmas carols sung by all the gathered folk are interwoven throughout the telling."
Every year, thousands gather at Lighthouse Beach to celebrate Christmas Eve with a special, candlelight service.
The service begins at 5:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve, but Danner said that attendants should plan on arriving early.
"We strongly encourage folks to are strongly encouraged to come earlier than 5:30 because, in years past, there have been as many as 1,000 people who come to the service," Danner said.
Parking for the service is free and attendants are asked to bring their own beach blankets and chairs to sit on during the service. All participants will be provided with a candle for the service, but Danner suggests that attendants bring a flashlight because it will be dark when the service ends.
"During the service, an offering will also be taken to benefit local charities, including FISH (Friends in Service Here) of Sanibel and the Salvation Army," Danner said. "It's a lovely way to begin the Christmas Eve celebration, and even though Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ sponsors the event, it really is a community service and we extend the welcome to not only island residents, but off-island residents and visitors. We want everybody to be a part of it."
For more information about the Christmas Eve service, call the Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ, 472-0497.