Clear71° WeatherClear71° Weather

Spirit of the holidays lives year-round in Christmas, Florida

Shirley Nettles Truex lives every day like it's Christmas. Maybe there's no snow on the ground, packages under the tree or mistletoe in the doorway, but she celebrates just the same.

Truex, 73, is an eighth-generation native of a town called Christmas in Florida – located about 25 miles east of Orlando. Around this time each year, revelers come from all around to mail their holiday cards.

"People come to the post office, then leave town," said Truex, who lives on a road named after her mother's side of the family. "If they would stay for a while, they would see what we're all about."

On a recent weekday, a sea of gray-haired seniors from Lutheran Towers in Orlando stepped from a large bus. One after another, one hand gripped the railing while the other held a neat stack of red, green and silver envelopes.

They had come to the U.S. Post Office, tucked on the south side of a long stretch of East State Road 50/Colonial Drive, for a Christmas postmark. More than 20,000 pieces of mail stream through each day from all over the world beginning after Thanksgiving.

"That cancellation is like gold," said Aida Tamarit, a sales services associate with the branch. "It's not like most post offices. This is a big deal."

Betsy McMillan McCaghren, 66, of Winter Park arrived with eight letters from Santa to her children and grandchildren. "They might know they were from Grandma if they had a Winter Park postmark," she said.

Cyndie Charcalla, 60, of Ocala remembers the year she drove over on her motorcycle to find the post office shuttered. Giving it a shot, she stuck her cards in an envelope with an apology letter and a check. She was stunned to receive a note in return saying her cards had been mailed.

A few miles away, Richard Kann, owner of Heart of Christmas Farms, and two of his nine children are busy tending to rows of beautiful organic fruits and vegetables grown hydroponically on poles. Goldfish swim below the plants a few feet away.

Here is an entirely different part of Christmas. Miniature horses, mules, goats and cows graze over a pasture as dozens of chickens scurry around. Visitors like to see the animals when they come to the Farm Store.

Tours are scheduled once a month. The store is open on Sundays and for pick-up during the week. When people learn of the farm, they come.

"This is a pretty good destination to come to," Kann said. "As more and more people hear about our healthy message, we want to share."

Kann, a computer programmer, purchased the farm in 2005 after hurricanes Jeanne and Francis took their Palm Bay home. He could spend hours rattling off everything they grow, including 18 varieties of Heirloom lettuce, herbs, greens, chives, beets, broccoli, radishes and turnips.

Chefs at the hotels at Disney and Universal covet their wares. They also sell grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, raw milk, cheese and yogurt.

One of the things Kann doesn't have in the small pond on his property is alligators. But he knows that no day trip to Christmas is complete without a visit to Jungle Adventures. Boasting the home of Swampy, the "World's Largest Gator!" at 200 feet, the tourist magnet has an endearing kitschiness.

The park offers a tour of an Indian Village and animal shows that include native Florida bears and other injured or abandoned exotic pets. The bears are in a tall, airy cage. This is the largest gator farm in Florida, and the gift shop sells frozen alligator meat for your barbecuing pleasure.

Just up the road, Truex meanders through one of 10 pioneer buildings from 18th century Florida. She works at Fort Christmas Historical Park for Orange County Parks & Recreation and serves as a founding member of the Fort Christmas Historical Society. She might as well be at home. Many of the artifacts and photographs were donated by her or feature her ancestors.

"I never gave it much thought. We were just halfway between Titusville and Orlando," Truex says of growing up in Christmas, kin to a famous pioneering family. "Later on, when the post office was built, we were on the map."

Fort Christmas was one of only 200 forts constructed during the Seminole Indian War from 1835-1842. On this site is a full-size replica along with 10 restored historical homes to preserve the "Cracker" architecture of East Orange County. Key themes are homesteading, cattle, citrus, hunting and fishing.

The park has three picnic pavilions, two of which seat 100 people and one which seats 50 people. Each pavilion has a large barbecue grill, electrical outlets and water hose. There is a playground, a basketball court, tennis court and a small baseball field. The store sells pioneer and Native American toys, jewelry, crafts and books.

Truex enjoys entertaining schoolchildren and telling curious amateur historians about the beauty of the town of Christmas and its rich history. She knows that the U.S. Post Office – one of 90 around the country with holiday names, but the only one to boast the name Christmas – is a big draw.

"Don't tell anyone, but anytime I share our story I feel like I have died and gone to heaven and got all my money sent to me there," Truex whispers. "Whether it's Christmastime or not, this place is just special."

Editor's note: This story was first published on VISITFLORIDA.com.

If You Go

Fort Christmas Historical Park

1300 Fort Christmas Road

Christmas, FL 32709

Park Hours: 8 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday through Saturday (summer hours); 8 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday through Saturday (winter hours)

Pioneer Homes & Museum: Tuesday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Note: Historic structures closed on Mondays and county holidays

Entrance Fee: Free

Gift Shop: 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday

Telephone: 407-254-9310

Heart of Christmas Farms

21310 Fort Christmas Road

Christmas, FL 32709

Fresh picked strawberries, tomatoes, greens, herbs, peppers, lettuces, squash, sprouts, micro-greens, edible flowers, radishes, spinach and more.

Farm Store: Noon-6 p.m., Sundays; Monday through Friday for preorder pickup (check availability list on website)

Telephone: 407-512-2004

U.S. Post Office

23580 E Colonial Drive

Christmas, FL 32709-9771

Hours: 9 a.m-5 p.m., Monday through Friday; 9:30 a.m.-noon, Saturday; closed Sunday

Telephone: 407-568-2941

Spirit of the holidays lives year-round in Christmas, Florida 12/20/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 21, 2011 12:47pm]

© 2014 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...