Guests unwrap the past at Dade City Christmas stroll

"It’s still the flavor of small town America. It’s what Dade City’s all about."
Published December 12 2018

DADE CITY — At the Dade City Country Christmas Stroll on Saturday, the novelty was nostalgia.

Kids rolled around in miniature vintage hot rods or scampered aboard a tractor-pulled hayride in the closed-off roads surrounding the Historic County Courthouse.

Spirited shoppers walked from storefront to storefront, ducking in for deals. Vendors showed off their wares under tents and along sidewalks — trinkets, carnival-style toys, antiques, hot chocolate and more.

And Mr. and Mrs. Claus made sure to see plenty of boys and girls.

Hundreds turned out for the 33rd annual holiday celebration, which for the past five years has been hosted by the Dade City Merchants Association. It was organized entirely by volunteers, with help from sponsors, including the city government.

"It’s still the flavor of small town America. It’s what Dade City’s all about," said Margaret Angel, the association’s president.

The goal of the event is to give visitors, many of whom come from outside the city, a sense of hometown camaraderie. It does so partly through immersion — take the old-timey fairground games or how the event has featured the same Clauses for five years so that kids can grow up with them.

"It’s different," Angel said. "Everybody’s doing something that’s modern, high-tech."

That old-fashioned feeling was one reason why couple Melissa Becker and Jim Harrison came up from Odessa with Becker’s 8-year-old daughter, Bella.

"We don’t have all of this history there," Becker said.

The family-friendly atmosphere was a plus.

"When you have kids, it’s nice to come to a place like that," said Becker.

"And (for) buying toys and presents," she added, leaning toward Bella.

Gifts weren’t everything, though.

"It’s really, really great to see everybody out getting the Christmas spirit on, which in Florida is not always easy," Becker said.

Stores downtown stayed open until 9 p.m., many of them strung up with holiday lights and decorations. The annual gathering is aimed at helping them, too.

"It’s to stimulate exposure," Angel said. The stroll is an entertainment event that also acts as a way to get people interested in Dade City’s businesses.

"This gives them a chance to explore and see what we have to offer," Angel said.

But for Kathleen Hotchkiss, who was manning a tent for the nearby Dog-Mania & Cats pet store, the point of the night was people.

"You just never knew who you’re going to meet or what connection you’ll make that will make the evening special," she said. "It isn’t about what we sell."

Contact Justin Trombly at [email protected] Follow @JustinTrombly.