Free and cheap events -- holiday edition
The ho-ho-holidays are right on top of us. And that means the weekends are getting packed with events. If you're still looking for fun things to do with the kids, try some of these events to get you off the couch and in the spirit.
Hurry on over to Tampa by 5 p.m. Thursday to be a part of Hillsborough County's seventh annual Holiday Tree Lighting Festival beginning at 5 p.m. Entertainment will include jazz recording artist B.K. Jackson and the Bloomingdale High School Orchestra. Kids can enjoy games and activities, including a snow slope, a rock climbing wall, a Moonwalk and arts and crafts. The whole family can visit the Christmas House and have their picture taken with Santa Claus. And it wouldn't be a tree lighting without the 34-foot fully decorated Christmas tree glowing with more than 30,000 lights. Refreshments include hot dogs, sodas, cotton candy, popcorn and other yuletide treats. Refreshments and activities are FREE!
Enjoy rides, games and food samples at the Christmas Carnival at John's Pass Village and Boardwalk, 150 John's Pass Boardwalk, Madeira Beach, which runs throough Sunday. Sidewalk sales featuring Christmas specials and free gift wrapping begin at 10 a.m. Proceeds go to local charities.
Kick off the weekend Friday at the sixth annual Holiday in the Park Winterfest at the England Brothers Bandshell, 5121 80th Ave. N, Pinellas Park. The free two-day festival will feature hayride tours of light displays, arts and crafts, children's train rides, photos with Santa, pony rides and more. Also on Friday, Winter Wonderland kicks off in Clearwater for three days of fun for the family. Enjoy pony rides, bouncy houses, a petting zoo, pictures with Santa and cookie decorating with Mrs. Claus. There is a small charge for some rides and photos with Santa but everything else is free. And there also are charity drives for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and needy families. Just bring a non-perishable food item or unwrapped new toy for donation. Cash donations also will be accepted.
Gifts you can eat are not only practical, but clutter-free (eventually). Make your favorite teacher, coach or neighbor edible gifts that your kids make themselves at Foodies' Holiday Gifts Galore class. Take away a festively decorated mix in a jar, cup, bag or pot with easy finish-at-home instructions. Classes are at 2 p.m. Saturday and Dec. 13. It's $4-8 per gift, you decide how many, at Foodies, 2312 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg. Reservations required at (727) 209-1418.
Experience Christmas in the country at Cracker Country's Discover the Past event from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Enjoy live music of the period, holiday crafts and other educational activities. Admission is $6 adults, $5 ages 6-12; ages 5 and younger are free. Cracker Country is at the Florida State Fairgrounds, 4800 U.S. 301 N Tampa, (813) 627-4225.
"Snow" will be falling in downtown St. Petersburg on Saturday at the annual Santa Parade and Snowfest beginning at 10 a.m. The AL champion Tampa Bay Rays will serve as grand marshal for the annual parade, which begins at Fifth Street and Central Avenue, then heads east on Central to Bayshore Drive NE. The parade route ends at North Straub Park, the site of Snowfest, which features snow, ice skating, toboggan rides, arts and crafts and more.
The Soulful Arts Dance Academy’s fifth annual production of Black Nativity will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday at the Palladium Theater, 253 Fifth Ave. N, St. Petersburg. Combining the poetry of Langston Hughes with the gospel music of today, it’s a popular celebration of the Nativity in scripture, verse, music and dance that first appeared on Broadway in the 1960s. Tickets are free but have been going fast so check with Soulful Arts to see if they are available.
Now this one isn't free or cheap but it is doing some good for the community. The Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis on Sunday features a 5K competitive run and a 1-mile fitness walk. Participants wear jingle bells on their shoes. Free food and beverages after the run. It begins at 8 a.m. at the Lowry Park Zoo, 1101 W Sligh Ave., Tampa. Pre-registration is $20; $25 race day. Students receive $5 discount. Call (813) 968-7000.
Check out all the kid-friendly events happening in the bay area this weekend including an outdoor movie, free photos with Santa and breakfast with Santa. Also take a peek at Momma's non-holiday free and cheap picks. And remember, if you have an event that is not on our list, please let us know about it.
-- Sherry Robinson