North Coast Night Lights: Holiday Magic

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It certainly looked a lot like Christmas in Old Town, Eureka. I’d gone down to photograph some nighttime holiday lights, and what should happen by but a wooden Santa ornament.  It hobbled stiffly out of the store as if nothing were amiss, and I swear I heard it muttering about the Christmas rush. Then he paused to peer into the window display at Many Hands Gallery, cocking his wooden head from side to side on his stocky neck. Suddenly he chuckled, threw me a wink, and scuttled quickly back inside. - DAVID WILSON
  • David Wilson
  • It certainly looked a lot like Christmas in Old Town, Eureka. I’d gone down to photograph some nighttime holiday lights, and what should happen by but a wooden Santa ornament. It hobbled stiffly out of the store as if nothing were amiss, and I swear I heard it muttering about the Christmas rush. Then he paused to peer into the window display at Many Hands Gallery, cocking his wooden head from side to side on his stocky neck. Suddenly he chuckled, threw me a wink, and scuttled quickly back inside.
I’m used to odd things. I especially love when they visit me during the holidays, those special times when people want to do good things, and odd things find a welcome home. These times bring out the magical things; one doesn’t usually find Santa or the elves or Easter bunnies running about outside of their respective holidays.

But it’s all fair game during a holiday. My family put up our tree earlier this week, a little later than normal. My favorite ornaments are a little set of wooden Santas, elves, angels, sleighs, snowpeople, and the like. I’ve always felt closest to the Santas, cute little two and three quarter-inch figurines that remind me of the stop-motion Christmas specials of my childhood. They’re the things of which dreams are made, and the tiny figures danced and played in my dreams that night.
Festive lighting and Ferndale’s great Christmas tree lent holiday vibes to Ferndale’s Main Street. My wife kept a lookout for cars while I captured the image. December 19, 2019 in Humboldt County, California. - DAVID WILSON
  • David Wilson
  • Festive lighting and Ferndale’s great Christmas tree lent holiday vibes to Ferndale’s Main Street. My wife kept a lookout for cars while I captured the image. December 19, 2019 in Humboldt County, California.
Later in the week my wife and I traveled into Ferndale to find some holiday night light and see what magic might be about in town to photograph. Main Street Ferndale was beautiful, a fully decked-out corridor with lights adorning most of the stores. The towering Christmas tree at the end of the street was visible for many blocks. But periodic showers kept most people inside, and they sent us home before I’d quite gotten what I wanted. I wanted magic, but that kind of thing has to come along when it’s ready.

A couple nights after our Ferndale visit I found myself down in Old Town Eureka. Many businesses were cleverly illuminated for the holidays and open for business, but many were not. I ended up outside the particularly beautiful windows of Many Hands Gallery at about 8p.m. With the view down the sidewalk and the glow from the window it gave me the best window/sidewalk/view I could find for a holiday photograph.
Evening holiday foragers found interesting things in Mind’s Eye Manufactory & Coffee Lounge in Ferndale on December 19, 2019. Look closely, for they were turned to blurs by the camera’s long exposure. Humboldt County, California. - DAVID WILSON
  • David Wilson
  • Evening holiday foragers found interesting things in Mind’s Eye Manufactory & Coffee Lounge in Ferndale on December 19, 2019. Look closely, for they were turned to blurs by the camera’s long exposure. Humboldt County, California.
But magic wasn’t happening yet… the photo needed something, or it needed someone, to give the foreground a story element. I was on the point of posing myself for the photo just to get something into the foreground when the strangest thing happened. I could swear even now that it had been a dream like those from the other night, but for the photographic evidence my camera recorded.

As I stood beside my camera waiting for the next great idea to come along, a wooden Santa ambled stiffly out of the store. Yes, I know how that sounds — but there it was. It, or he, perhaps I should say, came out clutching a little package. He smiled and nodded to me and had proceeded to shuffle down the sidewalk when the window display caught his attention. But for his size he was identical to the little Santas in our ornament set.
Animation showing the scene in Old Town before and after Santa came to town. Old Town, Eureka, Humboldt County, California. - DAVID WILSON
  • David Wilson
  • Animation showing the scene in Old Town before and after Santa came to town. Old Town, Eureka, Humboldt County, California.
He clucked and “Ho-ho-ho’d” delightedly, his head swiveling and his stubby little arms working. Made of wood and stiff in every joint, he might have walked right out of one of the old Rankin-Bass animated specials I loved. It was odd, I assure you. Was I hallucinating? Probably, I thought. But I took photos just the same. They’d tell the story later.

To keep abreast of David Wilson’s most current photography or peer into its past, visit or contact him at his website mindscapefx.com or follow him on Instagram at @david_wilson_mfx.

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