Santa’s Squadron

Ed Nabb’s desire to share the spirit of the holidays with the people of Tangier Island still soars more than 50 years later through the famed Holly Run

Photography by Edwin Remsberg

More than 50 years ago, while having lunch on Tangier Island, Cambridge attorney Ed Nabb discovered that there were no holly or evergreen trees on the secluded isle, due in part to centuries of sustained storms and rising sea levels. It was December of 1968, and with the Christmas season approaching, Nabb, who was also a pilot, soon flew back with two boughs of holly for the citizens of this remote land.

Nabb gave those first offerings to the Swain Memorial Methodist and New Testament churches.
At one, according to published reports, “After receiving the holly, we draped it around the altar in the church, but the children would take the berries off when they were having their Christmas program,” Tangier Island native Virginia Marshall said. “They would become distracted and forget their lines. So, now we place the holly in the church windows and in two white urns outside the church.”

SPIRIT AIRLINES Pilots who took part in the Holly Run of 1971 posed for this photo, including founder Ed Nabb, pictured third from left in the photo at right.

Photos courtesy Holly Run Collection, Nabb Research Center, Salisbury University

Beginning in 1975, a progression of Santa Clauses joined what had become known as the Holly Run — the most famous being Ocean City’s Jim Schultz, who played the part during some town functions. Schultz, a cab driver at the resort, saved a portion of his modest income to buy gifts for the children on the island. His arrival as Santa Claus was anticipated by young and old alike, until his passing shortly after the Holly Run of 2012. In recent years, Santa Claus has been played by Ralph Hoover of The Plains, VA.

Today, the annual event is organized by the Chesapeake Sport Pilot Flight School from its Stevensville facility with more than 100 volunteers and 50 registered aircraft — the maximum Tangier Island’s airport can accommodate. Pilots and volunteers gather together in the Swain Methodist Church with the island’s residents to share a meal and fellowship, including discussing how locals are coping with the challenges of living in an isolated community. The event concludes with the group singing of Christmas carols and reciting of the Pilot’s Prayer. Ed Nabb Jr., also a Cambridge attorney, is an honored guest. This year’s event will be modified in size due to the pandemic, but planners insist holly will still be delivered to the island.