Holiday Traditions Around the Sanctuary System

No matter what we celebrate, we all have our own, unique holiday traditions. Let’s see how communities throughout the National Marine Sanctuary System make the winter festivities their own! 

Photo credit: Jazz Guy

Dungeness crab feasts in Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary: California’s commercial Dungeness crab season traditionally begins on November 15. This invertebrate has succulent, rich meat, which makes it a great holiday dish. In fact, Dungeness crab is one of the stars of San Francisco’s Christmas dinners, traditionally accompanied by Caesar salad, sourdough bread, and lots of butter! 

In recent years, the Dungeness crab fishery has been delayed due to concerns about whale entanglement in crab trap gear, particularly the ropes that connect surface floats to traps on the seafloor. The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation is working with local Dungeness crab fishers to test new gear innovations designed to reduce entanglements while allowing continued fishing activity, making crabbing a merrier activity for all. 


Photo credit: Dennis Matheson

The Southernmost Tree in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary: On December 16, it’s all aboard the iconic Conch Train for a ride to the southernmost point of the continental United States! With conch chowder and a light sea breeze, visitors and residents alike celebrate the lighting of the southernmost Christmas tree at sunset, which overlooks the Atlantic and adds a twinkly flair to the horizon beginning at sunset. 

Santa’s Underwater Workshop in the Florida Keys: Occasionally, Santa Claus himself makes occasional appearances in SCUBA gear within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Maybe he has a secret underwater workshop or maybe he’s working hard to deliver presents to guppies along the Florida Reef Tract. 

Photo credit: U.S. Pacific Fleet

Celebrating Makahiki in the Hawaiian Islands:  Indigenous communities in Hawai’i celebrate Makahiki, which happens alongside Christmas in the winter months. Makahiki is a celebration based on the lunar calendar. It is a four-month long festival focused on rest and eating to celebrate the earth and the god, Lono. Families and communities gather in their yards or along the beach for festive feasts or traditional luau. Cuisine ranges from candy and fruitcake to poke, sashimi and sushi, and traditional American staples like turkey. 

Mele Kalikimaka, as you may know, is the thing to say on a bright Hawaiian Christmas Day. Say it to wish people in Hawai’i a wonderful festive season.


Remembering the Christmas Tree Ship in Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine SanctuaryOne of the most famous lost vessels within Wisconsin Shipwreck is the Rouse Simmons, also known as the Christmas Tree Ship. Captained by Herman Scheunemann, the Christmas Tree Ship

Photo credit: U.S. Coast Guard/Master Chief Petty Officer Alan Haraf

traveled north every year to collect pine trees from Michigan and deliver them to Chicago residents for the Christmas season. Captain Scheunemann always donated a portion of his trees to families who were unable to purchase them, earning him the moniker “Captain Santa.” Tragically, in November of 1912, the Rouse Simmons sank with all hands in a violent winter storm off the coast of Wisconsin.  

Captain Scheunemann’s tradition of giving continues today. Each year, the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Mackinaw brings more than a thousand Christmas trees to Chicago to deliver to families across the city. Volunteers at Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary host an event for students to hear the fascinating story and participate in fun activities that help them honor the memory of the ship and its Captain during the holiday season. With Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast’s recent designation as a sanctuary, who knows what kinds of traditions we might see develop between this sanctuary and Thunder Bay in Michigan? 

Photo credit: Black Hour

Kwanzaa celebrations near Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary in Savannah, GA: Since 1987, communities in Savannah, GA have been celebrating Kwanzaa. In 2018, Kwanzaa of Savannah, the largest celebration in the community, moved its location to the Moses Jackson Center at 6pm each evening for remembrance, reflection, and discussion of the seven principles (values) intended to reinforce the Black family and community for the coming year. On that last day, there is a potluck Karamu (feast) and celebration.