My earliest memories of Christmas take me back to Toledo, Ohio, where most homes were trimmed out with big bulbs in red, yellow, green and blue. Plastic Santas, snowmen and nativity sets added festive touches to snow-filled yards, while living room windows showcased aluminum Christmas trees, changing colors with the rotation of color wheels.
Now firmly planted in Florida, I still enjoy our family's search for seasonal spectacles — even if the lights blanket green grass, brighten up pink flamingos or wrap around the trunk of a palm tree.
And it's amazing how during these hard economic times, people continue to find creative ways to stretch their dollars, imaginations and generosity.
This year, Holidazzle, a glimmering garden display in Safety Harbor, raises the recycling bar with thousands of adorable ornaments created from plastic bottles, aluminum cans and compact discs. It was created "by the community and for the community" and donations benefit the future Safety Harbor Art and Music Center.
As far as nativities go, plastic is out and real is in. The Crystal Cove Community Church's annual living nativity production features music, actors and live animals like camels and sheep.
Christmas Living Nativity: Mary (Jordan Yeomans) and Joseph (Anthony Verderosa) appeared recently in the Christmas Living Nativity at Crystal Cove Community Church, 6900 County Road 95, Palm Harbor. The hourlong production begins at 8 p.m. today and Christmas Eve. Animals include a camel, horse, Jerusalem donkeys, sheep and goats, all which may be seen and petted after the production. Call (727) 771-8600 or visit crystalcovecc.org.
Downtown Dunedin: The lampposts in this quaint downtown are delightfully decorated as businesses and organizations engage in friendly competition every year to see who is the most clever of them all. The trees in Pioneer Park are set aglow, too. Some of the shops have extended evening hours for shopping romps.
Holiday Lights in the Gardens: Take a shimmering stroll through Florida Botanical Gardens, 12520 Ulmerton Road in Largo, where trees and shrubs shine with more than 500,000 lights. The display runs nightly from 5:30 to 9:30 through Jan. 1. A $2 donation is suggested for those over 12 years old to help fund the display. Parking is free. Find a list of entertainment at flbg.org or call (727) 582-2100.
Holidazzle : Artists Todd Ramquist and Kiaralinda have created a "hippie-notic" display of flower power at the couple's Safety Harbor home, 1206 Third St. N. With the help of many friends, they've turned thousands of recycled items into captivating snowflakes, florals, chandeliers, and more. The holiday garden is open nightly from dusk until 9 through Dec. 30. Free. Donations and proceeds from the sale of items will go to fund the future Safety Harbor Art and Music Center. (727) 725-4018.
Largo Central Park: This 70-acre park at 101 Central Park Drive sparkles with more than a million holiday lights — about 80 percent are energy-efficient LEDs. It took a staff of 13 about a month to install the display. See them from dusk to 1 a.m. each night and again from 5 to 7 a.m. through Jan. 2.
Also don't miss
Neighborhoods of Lake Park Estates, Wieker, Lakeside Estates and Lake Seminole Village (all one big community in Largo): The Griswold family has nothing on these folks when it comes to megawatt displays of lights and animations. The tour along a 3-mile route is free but donations are accepted and will benefit the Suncoast Hospice. Last year's event raised over $30,000 for the nonprofit. A Suncoast Hospice Cart is along the route, so roll down the window for some candy canes as well as dog treats for your four-legged friends. The light displays run Sunday through Thursday from 6:30 to 10 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays until 11 p.m. Open through New Year's Eve. Enter Lake Park Estates on Bryan Dairy Road at 109th Avenue and follow the reflective arrows. (727) 523-3414 or visit lightsoflakepark.com.
Indian Trails subdivision: They come in peace, offering goodwill to men. These little green men have landed at 2478 Indian Trail E, apparently attracted to the brilliant light displays illuminating the night skies in this Palm Harbor neighborhood. Park your car and plan to spend some time enjoying the sights and sounds of the season. The Indian Trails neighborhood is on the south side of Alderman Road, west of U.S. 19 N.
Have a Diversions feature event? Contact Terri Bryce Reeves at [email protected]