For the second year, there will be no Christmas in the Park in Lutz, but the Old Lutz School House and a new park in Town 'N Country offer northern Hillsborough residents a chance to turn out for other holiday celebrations.
In Town 'N Country, residents have a chance to establish a tradition with an old-fashioned Christmas tree lighting. The event is scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the gazebo at the new Shimberg Gardens community park next to the Town 'N Country Regional Library.
Nearly 10 years in the making, the park has always been intended to be a gathering spot for Town 'N Country residents. The tree lighting will be the first time it is used for that purpose.
"Everybody in the community is invited," said Fran Gamester, president of the Town 'N Country Garden Circle. "I can't believe it's finally happening after all these years. This is our town center."
As part of the park's landscaping, the county planted two 10-foot red cedars on either side of the gazebo.
The celebration will feature free refreshments, Santa Claus and music from the Center Stage Singers at Morgan Woods Elementary School.
"This is the first time," Gamester said, "but I want to continue it every year."
In Lutz, Christmas in the Park lapsed last year, partly because of Hillsborough County's policy of charging nonprofit groups to use county facilities and partly because of attrition among the volunteers who set up the oversized plywood Christmas cards near the historic downtown.
But another Lutz tradition, the Christmas celebration at the Old Lutz School House is returning for its 14th year, with at least 10 nights of caroling and holiday music, extensive decorations and a Saturday morning breakfast with Santa.
"I started the music about four or five years ago, and since then it's grown more and more," organizer William Westcott said. "We're booked up solid except for the first night."
The schoolhouse also collects nonperishable food and toys to be distributed to families in distress through Christian Social Services in Land O'Lakes.
"They need food," organizer Phyllis Hoedt said. "With the economy they've been hit hard."
Breakfast with Santa is from 8:30 to 11 a.m. Dec. 11. It costs $2 for doughnuts, bagels and drinks. No reservations are required. Typically 300 to 400 people turn out to meet Santa, tour the house, mingle and do crafts.
The schoolhouse will be open for free tours from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday (no music scheduled for that night at press time); Thursday (music by students from Lutz Elementary School); Dec. 11 (music by the Cornerstone Presbyterian Church); Dec. 12 (Learning Gate Community School); Dec. 14 (Sertoma Club and Ayanna Murray); Dec. 16 (Friendship Singers); Dec. 18 (Christian Group Remnant); Dec. 19 (Church of the Lakes); Dec. 21 (Tierra Del Sol Girl Scouts); Dec. 26 (Seven-Seventeen Music); and Dec. 27 (Christina Hundley).