20 Christmas Traditions That Are So Florida
The Christmas season in Florida isn't a traditional winter wonderland. Instead of chestnuts roasting over an open fire, you'll find burning temperatures over ocean waves.
Floridians gather 'round the tree in shorts, drink ice-cold eggnog while opening presents, and toast candy cane martinis poolside before setting up a picnic on the beach. White sand beaches take the place of snowy landscapes, a holiday twist we can get behind. Here, we gathered up our favorite ways Sunshine State natives celebrate the winter season in the most Florida fashion.
Illuminate the Season
Decorate in Beachy Style
It's not that Florida doesn't have traditional Christmas trees. The Sunshine State appreciates a fresh pine-scented house just as much as anyone, but the decorations might be slightly different. Some might opt for a full-on theme, like a turquoise and sand color scheme, while others prefer to pepper their trees with starfish and seashells. Additional trees are always welcome, but instead of the traditional shape, Floridians might opt for a pineapple form.
Brighten Up Christmas Dinners with Citrus
Some Floridians might be bold enough to ditch the Christmas roast in favor of a full-on seafood feast. Others opt for a slightly less Florida twist by adding citrus—it's in season in December—to holiday menu staples (like roasting a turkey with orange and lemon or simply adding orange juice to your cranberry sauce). As always, Publix Key Lime Pie is a strong contender for the dessert menu, no matter the occasion or time of year.
We may have already established that Floridians have a reputation for decking out some unusual things—palm trees and sandcastles, for example. Add to that list a parade of lifeguard stands. At the annual Deck the Chairs event in Jacksonville, local businesses create psychedelic light displays on a string of bright-red lifeguard chairs. The finished products are free to view throughout December, though concessions and sales help raise money for local charities.
Only in Florida
Surf With Santas
Cocoa Beach resident George Trosset called up his son with a crazy idea: Let's suit up in Santa gear and hit the surf on Christmas Eve. Now, what's become a family tradition for him is a major event, attracting thousands of costumed surfers and spectators to the Central Florida shoreline each Christmas Eve morning. Some come in full-on Santa suits, while others opt for holiday-themed tropical shirts or swimsuits (it is Florida, after all). Either way, there's an incentive to dress your best as there's an annual costume contest rewarding the most festive beachgoer with a custom surfboard.
Build Sandcastle Trees
If there's one Christmas tree that could top the iconic Rockefeller Center's, it's a 700-ton sand tree that illuminates the West Palm Beach shoreline through December. Standing at 35 feet tall, the massive sand sculpture is the centerpiece of the South Florida city's winter wonderland, including live music, light shows, holiday movie nights, and visits from St. Nick himself.
Attend Boat Parades
Florida might not be the only state that takes to the water for holiday festivities, but with more than 8,000 miles of shoreline, there's a good chance there are more boat parades than any other. From small-town events to big city extravaganzas—including Fort Lauderdale's Seminole Hard Rock Winterfest Boat Parade, dubbed "The Greatest Show on H2O"—there's always a floating light show nearby. For particularly scenic parades, check out St. Augustine's Regatta of Lights or one of the many Florida Keys lighted boat parades.
Party with Mickey
You'd be hard-pressed to find a more magical Christmas celebration than the one by Disney's Magic Kingdom every year. At Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, holiday revelers hang with all their favorite characters while indulging in holiday-themed treats, dancing, caroling, and watching the sky light up with fireworks. As a bonus for those dreaming of northern winters, it snows!
See the Lights by Beach Cruiser
Touring the neighborhood holiday light displays is a tradition that might stretch nationwide. In Key West, however, light gazing is done from two wheels instead of bundling up and heading out in a car. Each season, the Key West Lighted Bike Ride invites people to string up their beach cruisers and ride around town, taking in the holiday displays from Truman Avenue to Duval Street. The cost of entry is one unwrapped toy to be donated to charity, and the ride ends with a classic Key West-style block party. If you'd prefer to soak in the sights instead of pedaling, hop a trolley in Mallory Square for a festive tour through town.
The 12 Days Of Christmas (Florida Style)
Head to The Gasparilla Inn & Club in Boca Grande to celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas. Festivities include decorating gingerbread houses, holiday movies on the lawn, roasted chestnuts, eggnog, and the annual tree lighting. Completed decorated, The Inn features poinsettias, garlands, and bows, fitting for the season.
Send Christmas Cards From Christmas, Florida
For most of the year, Christmas is just another tiny town in Central Florida with an unusual name. But come the holiday season, Christmas—and its small red-brick post office—becomes a destination for many Floridians (and beyond) looking to postmark their well wishes from the ultimate holiday-themed location. While in the town of Christmas, check out their permanent holiday displays, including a tree, nativity scene, and Santa statue, along with Jungle Adventures, home of the world's largest alligator, even if it has nothing to do with the season.
Welcome a Sleigh-Less Santa
Christmas lore might tell you that Santa's primary mode of transportation is a reindeer-drawn sleigh. Not so in Florida. In Apalachicola, for instance, Christmas kicks off the day after Thanksgiving when Saint Nick sails in on a working shrimp boat. Meanwhile, In Cocoa Beach, Santa skydives to greet eager kids on the beach. And down in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Santa's been known to make his appearances in Scuba gear.
Lights and Displays
Watch Out-of-This-World Light Shows
Florida is known for being the country's gateway to outer space. The Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral does more than send rockets to the moon and beyond. They also put on a pretty stellar holiday celebration. For more light displays, check out 12 Nights of Lights at The Village of Baytowne Wharf in Sandestin for a festive light show every night leading up to Christmas. A fun luminary-lit stroll in Sanibel and Captiva leads the way between the towns' shops and cafes.
Discover Underwater Spectacles (with Mermaids)
A visit to the famous Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is a rite of passage for Floridians, mainly because it's home to one of Florida's weirdest wonders: real-life mermaids. Come the holidays, the traditional underwater production of The Little Mermaid switches to a Christmas-themed display, meaning that in addition to the show's roster of mermaids, visitors might catch a swimming Santa or his elves, too.
Travel Back in Time for a Festive Night or Two
In Fernandina, Charles Dickens and his beloved book A Christmas Carol inspires the celebrations. Downtown Fernandina transforms into a traditional English village, including costumed characters and themed entertainment. On the opposite coast, there's also the Victorian Christmas Stroll at the Henry B. Plant Museum in Tampa, which brings visitors to the museum for a festive winter exhibit that brings to life an authentic Victorian-style Christmas celebration, complete with carolers, spiced cider, and trimmed trees.
New Take on Traditions
Sing at the Top of Your Beach-Loving Lungs
Singing Christmas carols is a beloved seasonal tradition, and on Captiva Island, you can get involved in the festivities and raise your voice in celebration of the season. Near the beach, the white clapboard church known as Captiva Chapel-by-the-Sea is strung with colorful lights and filled with merry carolers singing all the best Christmas tunes. The Christmas Eve candlelight caroling has been one of the island's best-loved traditions since it began in 1950.
Rock Christmas Flip Flops
Boots? Sure, we have a pair for that rare occasion. Most of the time, our December uniform is much like the rest of the year: shorts, flip-flops, and sundresses. Still, we appreciate a shoutout to the season, so expect Christmas flair to appear in festive flip-flops, tank tops, and even swimsuits.
Bake Florida-Themed Christmas Cookies
In the Sunshine State, we treasure our annual cookie swaps as much as anywhere else (though we might need to crank the AC up when our ovens work overtime). Although, Floridian cookie cutters (and toppers) come with a coastal flair. Instead of snowflakes and Christmas trees, expect to get Christmas-lit palm trees and beach bum snowmen in your cookie sampler.
Send Only-in-Florida Christmas Cards
We don't mean to brag, but December in Florida is quite magical. The humidity is low, the temperatures are moderate, and there's always a light salt-air-scented breeze in the air. While you send photos of your family bundled up in red-and-green scarves or footie pajamas, Floridians send cards of clinking cocktail glasses on the sand (Santa hats on, of course).
Embrace the White-Sand Wonderland
Revel in the Natural World
Situated on Little Sarasota Bay in Osprey, Florida, visitors can find a merry and bright Florida Christmas celebration that dazzles. The Holly Days and Mangrove Lights celebration at Historic Spanish Point takes place on the 30-acre gem, decked in lights illuminating the pathways, holly plantings, and mangroves. The area includes some of the most extensive gardens on the Gulf Coast and has a beautiful chapel, historic homes, and holiday cheer around every corner.
Make Snow (and Fun)
You may think that by spending your winter holiday in Florida, you're giving up a chance to see snow, but you can still catch some flakes in a few places. At Snowfest in Naples, over a thousand ice blocks are put through a chipper to create tons of powdery snow. It's the perfect spot for throwing snowballs, making snow angels, and even tobogganing. After playing in the snow, make your way to the sands to warm up on a patch of classic white Florida sands.