Twelve Authentic Florida Holiday Things to Do
Author: Robin Draper
Date: November 27, 2016 12:00 am
Category: Things to Do
If You go
Edison & Ford Estates for the Holidays, photo courtesy of Edison & Ford Estates
Twelve Authentic Florida Holiday Things to Do
Authentic Florida shares twelve things to do and places to visit for the holidays that will remind you of simpler times keeping you in the spirit of the season - a la Old Florida style.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Park, Cross Creek, photo courtesy MKR State Park
The holidays are here!
Amidst all of the excitement and seasonal activities, most of us are making preparations for our traditions with decorations, fellowship and merry making. We plan meals, spend time with friends, shop and attend events or visit places that heighten the spirit of the season.
In Florida there are many things to do. So much that sometimes we yearn to find happenings that reflect simpler, less commercial times that resonate deep within our soul.
To remind us of those simpler times, we have done some scouting around and have chosen 12 Florida “things to do” to remind you that Florida holidays can indeed, be authentic.
Here are Holiday Things to Do in that span North, Central and South Florida:
North Florida Holiday Things to Do
The Lightner Museum, St. Augustine Nights of Lights, photo courtesy, Florida's Historic Coast
November 19 – January 31, 2016
St. Augustine, the Nation’s oldest city, becomes a Florida wonderland during the holiday season. From the official November lighting ceremony and throughout the holiday season, the city’s historic district is aglow with more than 3 million white lights. Historic buildings, museums, local businesses, the Bridge of Lions, the city’s bayfront walkway, hotels, bed & breakfast inns and private residences are all lit from the ground to the rooftops.
The Nights of Lights is a spectacular lighting display reflecting the city’s 450-year history. Illuminating the beautiful city traces its origins to the Spanish tradition of displaying a white candle in the window during the Christmas holidays.
Many local attractions offer special tours during Nights of Lights while the Castillo de San Marcos offers a free candlelight tour of the 17th Century fort on December 2nd at 6:45 pm.
Colonial Night Watch musket volley, photo courtesy, Gary LeVeille for Florida's Historic Coast
The next evening, December 3rd, at 7:00 pm, the city celebrates with the popular Colonial Night Watch, an annual event commemorating St. Augustine’s history with a nighttime torch-lit parade. Starting at the Castillo de San Marcos, the procession winds its way to the Plaza de la Constitucion. The event recreates the historic night watches where colonial citizens were required to carry a light so they could be seen and identified. Presented by Florida Living History and the National Park Service, re-enactors add historical flavor dressed in Spanish and British military uniforms, and as Native Americans and Florida militia men. Re-enactors are also on hand throughout the day at the Castillo de San Marcos for weapons demonstrations.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Park, photo courtesy of MJR State Park
December 8 – January 6, 2016
Author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings's cracker-style home and farm is located in Central Florida’s tiny community of Cross Creek. While living there, the Pulitzer Prize winning writer wrote many books including The Yearling and Cross Creek – two books that depicted life in rural Florida during the early 20th century. The homestead is now part of the Florida State Park system and is open to the public. The home is typical of Florida cracker architecture with a raised floor, high ceilings, and many windows and doors ideal for cross ventilation in warm weather living. An old woodstove provides heat during cool weather. The well preserved home is furnished with simple period furniture and reminders of times past.
A visit here is a step into Florida’s past and enjoyable any time of year, but it is especially festive during the holidays.
Park volunteers and staff go all out to create an historical holiday theme. Fresh from the surrounding garden evergreens, pinecones, candles and oranges are collected by volunteers to create a Florida themed setting. Mistletoe hangs over the doorways along with grapevine wreaths decorated with holly berries. Each fireplace mantel is adorned with fresh arrangements of boughs of pines, magnolias and palm fronds.
Park Manager Carrie Todd explains, “We also get a live tree and use old fashioned light bulbs that would have been used in the 1930s-40s. Then we use lots of handmade ornaments, and even place presents under the tree wrapped with vintage paper.”
Cinnamon and cloves heated on the wood-burning stove in the kitchen permeate the air throughout the homestead along with aromas of coffee, a stew or cornbread, wafting through the house.
Maclay Gardens State Park, Camellia Christmas, photo courtesy, Florida DEP
A Capital Holiday Celebration, Tallahassee
December 2 & 15, 2016
Florida’s Capital city, Tallahassee, is gearing up for its holiday season with celebrations embracing the past. It’s place in history is notable because Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto and crew celebrated the first Christmas mass of the New World in 1539.
Located on Florida’s Panhandle, Tallahassee has less of a tropical feel than many Florida communities contributing to a more traditional Christmas vibe. The holiday season starts the first week in December, with many activities to celebrate. Here are a few to consider:
Camellia Christmas at the Maclay Gardens State Park in Tallahassee marks the season opener for the gardens. December 2, from 6-9 pm, the former winter residence of Alfred and Louise Maclay will be decorated for the holidays with fresh arrangements created by the local flower club. Gardens are in full bloom with camellias as visitors walk along the brick pathway lined with candles as musicians entertain. Hot cider and cookies will be served and admission is free.
The Goodwood Museum and Gardens main house
The Goodwood Museum and Gardens once an 1838 cotton and corn plantation surrounded by majestic oaks and lovely gardens is a favorite for those attracted to “old Florida” charm. The main house and property is a treasured heirloom providing a glimpse into the life of the many families who once occupied the home and grounds. On December 15, the main home will be specially decorated for the holidays with Victorian Christmas theme. The ticketed event begins with a concert of Voices Angelorum, a Tallahassee Woman’s choir, as they perform in the Carriage House, followed by a champagne reception and a candle lit tour of the main residence.
Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center, photo courtesy of Stephen Foster Festival of Lights
December 2 – 24, 2016
The Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center and State Park will kick off its annual Festival of Lights December 2. Located on the banks of the Suwannee River in the small quaint Florida town of White Springs, the park will be decorated for the holidays.
In 1851 composer Stephen Foster wrote the popular tune “Old Folks at Home” and White Springs became a destination “Way Down Upon the Suwannee River” for well-heeled tourists in search of the relaxing, medicinal waters of the white sulphur springs that the area was once known for.
Opening night for the Festival of Lights December 2nd includes a parade, bon fire, free hot cocoa, popcorn and marshmallow roasting. Holiday music is played from the bells of the tall carillon.
Every night throughout the holiday season, the park features alternating events, or the opportunity to just drive your car through the park and admire the dazzling display lights. Be sure to check the schedule on the park website or call ahead. Santa makes an appearance on select nights.
Central Florida Holiday Things to Do
Bok Tower holiday concert, photo courtesy Bok Tower Gardens
November 25 through January 8, 2017
Bok Tower Gardens is a favorite Authentic Florida destination any time of year but at Christmastime there is a special allure. The gardens are alive with colorful holiday displays of poinsettia, bromeliad and amaryllis and the Carillon Tower resonates with carols of the season. Special activities include the 22nd anniversary of the ever-popular Holiday Home Tour at Pinewood Estate. Concerts, walking tours, decorating workshops, plenty of family activities and special events are happening at the Bok Tower Gardens. The holidays are indeed one of the best times of the year to visit the National Historic Landmark. Located in the heart of Central Florida, between Tampa and Orlando near Lake Wales, Bok Tower Gardens includes 157 acres of luscious gardens, a 205-foot art deco Singing Tower Carillon and the 1930’s Mediterranean-style Pinewood Estate.
Bok Tower Bromeliad Holiday Tree, photo courtesy, Bok Tower Gardens
For the holidays, Bok Tower features the Pinewood Estate & Home Tour with a theme of “Home for the Holidays,” a celebration of the 1940’s post-war era. The estate is a 20-room 1932 Mediterranean-style home with a barrel-tile roof and carved doors. It is stunning any time of year but is especially beautiful during the holidays. This home tour is well worth the additional entrance fee.
Fill your soul with holiday spirit as you stroll through the magnificent gardens as the 60-bell singing tower carillon concerts fill the air with inspiring holiday music.
DeLand's Stetson Mansion hosts a Holiday Home Tour
November 15 – January 15, 2017
DeLand, located between Orlando and Daytona Beach, also reminds holiday visitors of Florida’s past. John B. Stetson, creator of the iconic Stetson cowboy hat, built Florida’s first luxury estate in DeLand where he wintered for 20 years.
The ornate 1886 High Victorian style mansion, listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, offers “Christmas Spectacular” tours displaying unique and dramatic holiday decorations every year. Akin to a designers showcase, this home is likely to have some of the most elaborate holiday decorations found anywhere in Florida, often using fresh local greenery for decorations. This year, rooms will draw their elegant seasonal inspiration from the 200th anniversary of the song Silent Night, the play A Christmas Carol, and tributes to servicemen and John B. Stetson.
Stetson Mansion entrance decorated for the Holiday Home Tour
The Victorians are credited with beginning the modern Christmas traditions incorporating holiday trees and gift giving. The Stetson mansion was one of the first homes in the world to have electric Christmas tree lights sent directly from Thomas Edison, a friend of Stetson.
Tickets and reservations are required. Guided tours are offered three times per day, 10:30 am, 1:30 pm, 5:00 pm
Additionally in Deland, the West Volusia Historical Society hosts a holiday tour of historic homes. The December 10 & 11 home tour includes homes of University Terrace, featuring Tudor, Colonial, Mediterranean and Mission Revival styles. Tickets can be purchased by calling the West Volusia Historical Society.
Fort Christmas Park, Christmas, Florida
December 3 & 4, 2016
Cracker Christmas is an event that takes place in the Florida town actually named Christmas. It is a small community near Orlando and is named for an historic fort completed there on Christmas Day in 1837.
A craft fair, barbecue and many other Cracker Christmas activities take place at the Fort Christmas living history settlement that includes replicas of the 1837 fort and museum, historic pioneer homes, a 1906 school, a 1930’s WPA pavilion, 1920’s ball field, 1932 lunchroom, sugar cane mill and syrup kettle.
On December 3 & 4 guests can experience Florida’s historical past through live displays of sugar cane grinding and syrup making, heritage arts of spinning, weaving, lace making, broom making, wood carving, and blacksmithing while enjoying pioneer foods and Dutch oven cooking. A Civil War camp and a cow camp will be set up along with displays of antique farm equipment and tractors.
And while there, stop at the community’s post office and get your holiday cards stamped with the official Christmas, Florida stamp. The local post office handles more than 300,000 pieces of mail each year during the season.
Kirby Family Farm Christmas Express
Select nights, November 25 - December 31, 2016
Northwest of Ocala is the small farming community of Williston. Scenic country roads meander through rural pastures and fields. At night, away from city lights, the vast Williston country sky glows with a full display of twinkling lights, but the stars are not the only twinkling lights you’ll see this holiday season.
In Williston is the Kirby Family Farm, a 173-acre working farm all year long, but during the holidays it is the home of the Christmas Express, a full size narrow gauge train pulled by a lovingly restored 1880’s steam locomotive.
“Old #19” an historic locomotive is festooned with lights and circles a large hayfield travelling through displays of colorful Christmas lights. It’s a life-sized version of a holiday Christmas train and delights children and adults alike.
While the Christmas Express train is the main attraction, there is much more to see. In fact, the holiday event seems more like a church fair full of activities where people know one another, exchange warm greetings and celebrate the season. The Kirby family has a mission to reach out to children in need and this event, among others throughout the year, is a commitment to helping others.
Henry B. Plant Museum's Victorian Christmas Stroll
December 1 - 23, 2016
Experience the extravagance and grandeur of a Victorian Christmas during the Henry B. Plant Museum’s Victorian Christmas Stroll at the University of Tampa. Visitors get a glimpse of Christmas past as the former 1891 Tampa Bay Hotel is transformed with period holiday decorations. The event runs every day from December 1 through December 23, 10 am to 8 pm.
During the Victorian Christmas Stroll you can explore the museum filled with Christmas trees ranging in height from a few inches to more than 14 feet. Hundreds of feet of garland and more than 40,000 lights glow throughout the museum. Decorations include vintage fashions, antique toys, hand-painted ballet pointe shoes and fanciful ornaments.
The Victorian Christmas Stroll celebrates the warmth and spirit of an old fashioned holiday. Complimentary cider and cookies will be served on the veranda each day while holiday music floats through the air. Guests can enjoy live music each evening.
The museum will host a number of special performances during the Victorian Christmas Stroll. Included are choir and orchestral performances and a puppet theatre.
South Florida Holiday Things to Do
Selby Botanical Gardens Lights in Bloom, photo courtesy, Selby Gardens
December 16-23; 26-30, 2016
For two weeks in December, Lights in Bloom at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is one of the most popular family events in Sarasota. Selby Gardens is dedicated to tropical epiphytic plant species and the lush bayfront grounds in downtown Sarasota will host its 13th year of Lights in Bloom with more than one million lights on display.
Visitors can stroll through the magical gardens filled with beautifully lit flowers, butterflies, dragonflies and more. Returning this year are iconic favorites like the Radiant Rainforest butterflies, the Wishing Tree and a large holiday tree that is created from rows and rows of bromeliads.
Sarasota's Selby Gardens
Marie Selby, an avid gardener married to oil-tycoon William Selby, passed on her lavish property to the community. Now guests can visit her historic home on 15 acres housing more than 12,000 living plants overlooking Sarasota Bay. A popular attraction is the Children’s Rainforest that draws adults and children of all ages featuring an elevated treetop garden, swinging bridges, waterfall, caves and play areas surrounded by huge old banyan trees.
“This year we wanted to give people the cherished spots that have become part of their family memories, but also to add new scenes that will give guests something to talk about,” said Roger Capote, senior director of special projects at Selby Gardens, who oversees the light display.
The nightly events also include live music by The Lauren Mitchell Band, children’s arts and crafts activities and games. Santa Claus visits nightly through Dec. 23.
Edison & Ford Estates for the Holidays, photo courtesy, Edison & Ford Estates
Holiday Nights, November 25 - January 1, 2017
Over a century ago, Thomas Edison created the first strand of Christmas lights, so it’s no surprise that the holiday lights sparkle and decorations glimmer at Florida’s Ft. Myers Edison & Ford Winter Estates. Here, visitors can enjoy the holiday festivities and peek into the lives of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, legendary American icons who lived on the 20-acre property in the early 1900’s.
Step back into an old-fashioned Florida holiday celebration while admiring the historic buildings, huge banyan trees, tropical and botanical gardens.
The homes and gardens of the Edison and Ford families are seasonally decorated with thousands of lights and historic decorations and visitors can enjoy nightly entertainment, special tours, and new this year, Waltzing Waters, a lighted water fountain display. Also, on December 14, a special holiday tea with the Edisons and Fords will be held.
Recognizing the spectacular decorations and holiday activities, USA Today selected Edison Ford Holiday Nights as one of the ‘Top Ten Historic Holiday Sites’ in the nation, along with the White House, Mount Vernon, and the Biltmore Estate.
Victorian Holidays at the Stranahan House Museum, photo courtesy, Stranahan House
December 15 - 23 at 7:00 pm
Written by Authentic Florida guest blogger, Tamara Scharf
Wondering how to get into the holiday spirit in South Florida? The Stranahan House in Ft. Lauderdale celebrates a ‘Victorian Christmas’ and you’re invited.
A time-honored family tradition, Fort Lauderdale‘s ‘Victorian Christmas’ manages to serve up a good dose of local history and culture, mixed with a large pinch of holiday sparkle and cheer.
The oldest house in Fort Lauderdale, now a museum, was built in 1901 by Frank Stranahan as a trading post. The Stranahan House was later converted to a residence for Frank and his wife Ivy, both prominent figures of Fort Lauderdale’s early history.
Frank established the first trading post, the first post office and ferry service on the New River. Ivy was Fort Lauderdale’s first teacher and went on to become a trusted friend of the Seminole tribe, educating and teaching Seminole children.
The Stranahan House almost defiantly claims its space on the New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale between high-rises, banks and boutiques. For the ‘Victorian Christmas’ event, the house is completely transformed with Victorian-style decorations, sparkling lights, live music and docents in Victorian attire bringing history to life with stories of bygone days.
The ‘Victorian Christmas’ event also includes a magical boat tour on the New River to see some magnificent holiday lights and mansions.
Tickets are $30 per person and a reservation is required. Call Stranahan House to reserve: (954)524-4736
Tamara Scharf is an archeologist and history buff who blogs about south Florida travel and weekend adventures at www.TamaraScharf.com. Follow Tamara on Twitter @ScharfChick or Facebook at Sun, Sea and Scharf Shots.
Florida Keys Holiday Boat Parades, photo courtesy Fla-Keys.com
December 10, 11 and 17, 2016
The holiday season comes alive in the Florida Keys with warmth and cheer throughout the 125-mile-long island chain. From Key Largo to Key West, the 2016 holidays are sprinkled with only-in-the-Keys events. Decorated boat parades that include all kinds of craft - from lights on outriggers to sailboats and cruisers decorated with lights that shimmer on the water creating a tropical floating carnival parade. Guests view the parades from land, bridges, bars or boats or become part of the festival decking out their own vessels.
In Key West the Schooner Wharf Lighted Boat Parade kicks off on December 10 with a procession that travels around Key West’s Historic Seaport and Harbor. Watch from the island institution, Schooner Wharf Bar, an open-air bar located on the site of the old Singleton Shrimp factory.
Further up the Keys on that same day (Dec. 10) the Boot Key Harbor Christmas Boat Parade begins just after sunset from the west end of the harbor traveling east to the Sombrero Resort & Marina. View from Lazy Days Restaurant, Burdines or anywhere along the harbor route.
December 11 in Marathon is the Key Colony Beach Holiday Lighted Boat Parade beginning at the 7th Street Canal. Starting at dusk, viewers can watch the parade from the Sadowski Causeway entering Colony Beach or at the dock behind the post office.
And on December 17 the Key Largo Boat Parade kicks off at 7:30 pm on Blackwater Sound around mile marker 104. The best viewing is at Sundowners, Jimmy Johnson’s Big Chill, Senor Frijoles, or the Marriott Key Largo Bay Resort.
Also on December 17 at 7p.m., the Lower Keys Lighted Boat Parade include deep-sea cruisers, dinghies, kayaks and canoes. The best viewing is from Kiki’s Sandbar on Little Torch Key will cruise through the Pine Channel.
And finally, if you are looking for a local Christmas tree, think about this:
Nicholas Christmas Tree Farm, 14260 SE 80th Ave, Summerfield, OcalaMarion
During the holiday season, many Floridians take a trip to a Christmas tree lot to find the perfect tree, only to learn that most of the trees have been shipped from out of state, are expensive, and have become dried out before Christmas day.
Have you considered taking a trip to a real Florida Christmas tree farm and cutting down your own or buying a homegrown farm raised tree?
There are many Florida farms that plant, harvest and sell Florida grown trees. In Florida, look for these varieties: Red Cedar, Virginia Pine, Sand Pine, Spruce Pine, Arizona and Leyland Cypress. All thrive in our Florida climate.
The experience of venturing out to find the family Christmas tree is a fun adventure for the whole family - and good for Florida. Here is a list of Florida Christmas Tree farmers where you can get a fresh cut Florida tree.
If you are near the Ocala National Forest, the Forest Service will be selling Christmas tree permits to those who want to cut down their own tree. From November 26 through December 22nd a $7.00 tree permit can be purchased to cut your own, and you will receive a map to the designated tree cutting area.
So, how does buying your own Florida holiday tree help the environment? Florida farmers, as a rule, try to plant 2-3 trees for every one cut, considered an industry standard. Also Christmas tree farms provide beautiful greenbelts, consuming carbon dioxide and reintroducing oxygen to the air, thus cleansing the air. Buying a Florida tree also means that less fuel is used to truck in the out-of-state trees, helping the local economy and supporting our tree farmers.
And don’t forget, if there is not a Christmas Tree Farm in your area, most locally owned plant nurseries have potted smaller trees for sale that you can purchase, then plant in your own yard or give to a friend.
Try something new this year by keeping it natural, it’s good for Florida.
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About the Author: Robin Draper is a Florida native and blogger devoted to the simple and delightful pleasures for Florida living. This article is connected to Robin's Google+ profile.
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