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Surfboards & Santa: Largest cocktail party on the planet goes tropical at Nutcracker Market preview

Surfboards & Santa: Nutcracker Market preview party goes tropical

7 Allison Flikerski, from left, Kristy Bradshaw and Beth Wolff at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
Preview Party chairs Allison Flikerski, from left, Kristy Bradshaw and Beth Wolff. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
11 Arthur and Philamena Baird at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
Arthur and Philamena Baird. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
16 Emily Eakin, left, and Kaitlyn Ullrich at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
Emily Eakin, left, and Kaitlyn Ullrich. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
10 Jim Nelson, from left, with Cecilia and David Campbell at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
Jim Nelson, left, with Cecilia and David Campbell. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
30 Susie Dilg, from left, Jay Jones and Mary S. Dawson at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
Susie Dilg, from left, Jay Jones and Mary S. Dawson. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
29 Jennifer Wright, from left, Deidra Fontaine, Pamela Bryant and Ima Turner at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
Jennifer Wright, from left, Deidra Fontaine, Pamela Bryant and Ima Turner. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
28 Jami Bump, from left, Candace Weber and Amanda Sullivan at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
Jami Bump, from left, Candace Weber and Amanda Sullivan. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
27 Marina Fleishman, from left,  Toni Baches and Sam and Denise Malone at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
Marina Fleishman, from left, Toni Baches and Sam and Denise Malone. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
3 C.C. Conner, left, and D.L. Groover at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
C.C. Conner, left, and D.L. Groover. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
23 Vanessa Sendukas, from left, Cheryl Gallagher, Kari Parsons and Alyssa Parsons at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
Vanessa Sendukas, from left, Cheryl Gallagher, Kari Parsons and Alyssa Parsons. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
22 Rachel Regan, left, and Chita Johnson at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
Rachel Regan, left, and Chita Johnson. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
21 Mary Whalley, from left, Chelle Shutts, Grace Kim and Betty Costantini at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
Mary Whalley, from left, Chelle Shutts, Grace Kim and Betty Costantini. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
25 Pam Morse, from left, Dan Pastorini and Shelley Ludwick at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
Pam Morse, from left, Dan Pastorini and Shelley Ludwick. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
20 Patrick and Megan Kessler at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
Patrick and Megan Kessler. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
13 James Caloway, from left, Krista Moser and Paul Michael at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
James Calaway, from left, Krista Moser and Paul Michael. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
15 Karen Miller, left, and Candace Johnson at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
Karen Miller, left, and Candace Johnson. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
18 Michael Bickham, from left, Lenny Matuszewski and Anthony Dowd at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
Michael Bickham, from left, Lenny Matuszewski and Anthony Dowd. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
1 Liz Webb, from left, Roxie Lyons, Megan Dean, B.J. Smith and Laurie Smith at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
Tailgaiting: Liz Webb, from left, Roxie Lyons, Megan Dean, B.J. Smith and Laurie Smith. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
7 Allison Flikerski, from left, Kristy Bradshaw and Beth Wolff at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
11 Arthur and Philamena Baird at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
16 Emily Eakin, left, and Kaitlyn Ullrich at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
10 Jim Nelson, from left, with Cecilia and David Campbell at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
30 Susie Dilg, from left, Jay Jones and Mary S. Dawson at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
29 Jennifer Wright, from left, Deidra Fontaine, Pamela Bryant and Ima Turner at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
28 Jami Bump, from left, Candace Weber and Amanda Sullivan at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
27 Marina Fleishman, from left,  Toni Baches and Sam and Denise Malone at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
3 C.C. Conner, left, and D.L. Groover at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
23 Vanessa Sendukas, from left, Cheryl Gallagher, Kari Parsons and Alyssa Parsons at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
22 Rachel Regan, left, and Chita Johnson at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
21 Mary Whalley, from left, Chelle Shutts, Grace Kim and Betty Costantini at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
25 Pam Morse, from left, Dan Pastorini and Shelley Ludwick at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
20 Patrick and Megan Kessler at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
13 James Caloway, from left, Krista Moser and Paul Michael at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
15 Karen Miller, left, and Candace Johnson at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
18 Michael Bickham, from left, Lenny Matuszewski and Anthony Dowd at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014
1 Liz Webb, from left, Roxie Lyons, Megan Dean, B.J. Smith and Laurie Smith at The Nutcracker Market preview party November 2014

Five thousand shoppers can't be wrong. That's how many poured into NRG Center Wednesday night for the biggest charitable fundraiser of the year — Houston Ballet's Nutcracker Market.

They came in chauffeur-driven cars. They arrived in vans large enough to haul off cases of marinara sauce from Donne di Domani and trunk loads of the fab holiday decorations from Paul Michael Co. Some even arrived so early in order to beat the crowds that they set up tailgating parties. As Houston Ballet managing director Jim Nelson noted of the splashy preview party, "It's the largest holiday cocktail party on the planet." We would have to agree.

"All the wonderful, traditional themes had been taken and then I heard Jimmy Buffett's 'Cheeseburger in Paradise' and that was it."

The four-day holiday shopping extravaganza, which continues through Sunday afternoon, took a different turn this year, steering away from traditional holiday themes and embracing a tropical ambiance. Welcome to Nutcracker Market in Paradise. Think pink flamingos, palm trees and surfboards vying with Santa's elves and reindeer.

As chair of the 34th annual market, Cecilia Campbell explained, "All the wonderful, traditional themes had been taken and then I heard Jimmy Buffett's 'Cheeseburger in Paradise' and that was it."

She amped up the tropical ambience by flying in several beautiful orchid leis for a few of her key deputies. Enhancing the mood further, the first 1,000 shoppers through the gates received faux leis. That merry throng was welcomed by preview party chairs Kristy Bradshaw, Allison Flikerski and Beth Wolff.

With more than 300 merchants from across the country, the shopping opportunity is so enticing that many visit the market several times during its run. Last year, the market did a record $19 million in sales. Stay tuned for the results of this year's ultimate shop til you drop event.

Among those filling their shopping bags on this night were Philamena and Arthur Baird, Rachel Regan, Chita Johnson, Vanessa Sendukas, Lynda Transier, Scott Evans, James Calaway, Krista Moser, C.C. Conner and DL Groover, Kari Parsons, Lenny Matuszewski, Pam Morse and Dan Pastorini and Denise and Sam Malone.