The HeART of the Season

A Tiny Village With the Spirit of Christmas

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December 2023 Issue
By Debi West

It’s 9:30 am on a Wednesday morning in Shelter Cove on Hilton Head Island, and I’m greeted by a big hug and a big smile when I sit down to talk with Hartland Monahan. I realize immediately his name is indeed fitting…this artist is all heART! And his goal is to share his art and passion with the community because this is a heARTfelt way to honor his dad. Wait until you hear his story; better yet, wait until you see Ernieville!

Ernieville is an incredible miniature Christmas village set up each year in the WaterWalk Apartment’s Welcome Center lobby, but it began in Montreal, Canada, on Christmas Day in 1951. It was there where Hartland’s father, Ernie Monahan, placed a few tiny reindeer and Christmas figurines into an empty fireplace. For Hartland and his brothers, Glenn and Kim, it was “magical”!

Fifty-two years have passed, and this simple set-up has now become a Monahan tradition that has grown into a nostalgic Christmas village with more than 200 pieces, including 15 carnival rides, a Polar Express train, a scenic mountain range and even a ski lift (new this year)!

This village is truly amazing on its own, but perhaps the best part is that Hartland did not set out to emulate this family experience. In fact, he is not a trained artist but rather a former National Hockey League (NHL) athlete, husband, father, and a fabulous grandfather known as Poppy, who decided to share this inherited collection with his family a few decades ago.

Hartland, inspired by his dad, remembers watching the village grow—as he worked late into the night for weeks to complete it in time for Christmas. The village was something the entire family looked forward to every year. Now, Hartland works for weeks getting his expanded village set up, as well, and his own family is all involved sharing in his passion and excitement. His wife, Linda, the three children, and their grandchildren all help build the village together. In fact, it was his granddaughter, Sterling, who suggested they start adding more pieces to the village.

Hartland’s eyes light up when he talks about his family, and it is obvious this is where he garners great joy. Seeing how they all work together to honor this blessed tradition to keep it alive is as impressive, as it is touching. “We’ve really begun to outgrow the space we need, and the displays soon could be divided into separate landscapes,” he said with a smile and a chuckle.

Seeing is believing! Be sure to mark your calendar now to stop by and see this incredible village. When you’re there, you will see the Santa/Vail Village complete with a snow-covered mountain and carolers; Main Street bustling with bars, shops, restaurants, and of course, there’s an ice-skating rink! You’ll see churches, synagogues, and a replica of St. Patrick’s Cathedral which honors multiple faiths, and you will be in sailor heaven when you see the Ocean surf shops, lighthouses and dock! And finally, the colorful carnival. You can almost smell the popcorn popping, envision the rides spinning, and hear the laughter as you recall days gone by. “I see joy on people’s faces when they walk in and say, ‘This brings back great memories of my childhood,’” said Hartland.

Ernieville is a Christmas miracle, and Hartland has become the heART of the season for us all.

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Ernieville is open all of December,
Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Entry is free, and if you would like,
please leave a donation to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, as there will be a place to do so in the
lobby. Hartland appreciates the WaterWalk staff for
their continued generosity in sharing their space.

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