The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is not the oldest in Savannah. Still, this Gothic Revival cathedral may be the most beautiful and ornate of all the churches. Outside, twin spires stretch toward heaven, dominating the Savannah skyline. Inside, pastel beauty reigns. Mauve and robin's-egg blue grace the walls, along with massive, colorful murals.
Marble covers the aisles, while the floors beneath the polished oak pews are made of heart pine. There are stunning stained-glass windows crafted in Austria, while the majestic rose window above the entrance depicts St. Cecilia, patroness of music.
Though its beauty truly needs no adornment, the Cathedral offers the city's most stunning display of Christmas decorations. But don't expect to experience the full effect before Christmas Eve.
"Here at the Cathedral, we try to adhere to the season of Advent," explains Brother Robert Sokolowski, who creates the church's fabulous floral displays. "We start the actual celebration of Christmas at Midnight Mass and go for 12 days."
Over the years, members and visitors alike have come to love Brother Robert's European-style Nativity scene. The collection now fills the right chapel of the church. He adds something new each year. When people leave gifts for the baby Jesus, he simply incorporates the presents into his design.
The seasonal display seems to grow each year, yet Brother Robert has no trouble finding inspiration.
"All I can say is it's a gift from God," he modestly admits. "I've always said I consider the Cathedral to be my pulpit."
The Hope of Israel
If not for the Star of David over the front door, you might think the neo-Gothic temple that houses Congregation Mickve Israel was a Catholic or Episcopalian cathedral. Yet, as darkness settles on the city this eighth day of Hanukkah and members come together to celebrate, there's no mistaking that this is a synagogue.
Friends and families gather in the fellowship hall, their menorahs gracing the tables in front of them. "Every day we light an additional candle," says Rabbi Arnold Mark Belzer. "Now, on the last night of Hanukkah, we light eight candles plus the shammes. It's a night filled with light, a night of great celebration."
Amid singing and laughter, the rabbi takes the shammes, the highest of the nine candles in his family menorah, and lights it. He moves from table to table until all have burning candles. As each family lights its own menorah, the darkened room begins to glow.
"Hanukkah is considered a minor celebration because it is not mentioned in the Bible, but Hanukkah and Passover are the two most celebrated holidays in the American Jewish community," Rabbi Belzer explains. "In our family, it's eight crazy nights. We're all getting together someplace or another doing some hoop-de-dah for eight nights. That's pretty amazing. My granddaughters get one present each night--we all do--so the house is filled with gifts."
"Savannah Rings in the Season" is from the December 2003 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.