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  1. Life & Culture

How to embrace a Florida Christmas

Celebrating the holidays in the Sunshine State can be a surreal experience. If you’re new here, or still not used to it, here’s how we roll.
Christmas floats are pictured in a pool at the Keystone Motel, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021 in St. Pete Beach.
Christmas floats are pictured in a pool at the Keystone Motel, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021 in St. Pete Beach. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
Published Dec. 15, 2021

Our palm trees are wrapped in strands of glowing lights. The ground is peppered with tiny, skittering lizards instead of covered with a blanket of snow. There are pit stains on your ugly holiday sweater.

Welcome to the surreal and disorienting world of Christmas in Florida.

Thousands of new Floridians will celebrate their first holiday season here this year. But even if you’ve been here awhile, the shock of the holidays in our humid subtropical region may linger.

People walk and bike around holiday decorations, Friday, Dec. 10, 2021 in Gulfport.
People walk and bike around holiday decorations, Friday, Dec. 10, 2021 in Gulfport. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Not all of it is bad. Barbara Wilson, 69, moved to Florida from New England over 16 years ago and fell in love.

“Christmas morning, I walked outside to pick up the newspaper and looked up and thought, ‘Wow,’ ” Wilson said. “I thought I’d died and went to heaven.”

Christmas colors illuminate palm trees at Curtis Hixon Riverfront Park in Tampa on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021.
Christmas colors illuminate palm trees at Curtis Hixon Riverfront Park in Tampa on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

The holidays here can be a mixed experience for Wilson, but she enjoys celebrating with friends even though much of her family is in other places. She fills her schedule with Tampa Bay traditions, from the boat parade in Dunedin to the holiday lights at the Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo.

A flamingo float wearing a Santa hat is pictured at a post office, Friday, Dec. 10, 2021 in Gulfport.
A flamingo float wearing a Santa hat is pictured at a post office, Friday, Dec. 10, 2021 in Gulfport. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Joseph Camerieri moved from Long Island to Dunedin when he was 12 years old. He was excited by the lure of Disney World — until he realized he was missing out on snow days.

“Now that I’m older, I want at least cold weather,” said Camerieri, now 57. “I let go of the snow.”

He distracts himself from what he’s missing by watching his favorite holiday movies, like A Charlie Brown Christmas, and focusing on his interests: volunteering with his church to help people in need, and playing ice hockey.

“I still struggle with not being cold, but hey, my family’s here,” he said. “I love my family and I move on.”

Joanne Boles, 63,, left, David Boles, 65, right, ride their bikes along the Riverwalk after participating in the 10th annual Winter Wonder Ride through downtown Tampa at Curtis Hixon Riverfront Park’s Winter Village in Tampa on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021.
Joanne Boles, 63,, left, David Boles, 65, right, ride their bikes along the Riverwalk after participating in the 10th annual Winter Wonder Ride through downtown Tampa at Curtis Hixon Riverfront Park’s Winter Village in Tampa on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
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It’s also a great time to make new traditions, like Jeff Ardle did. When he met his wife Rosa in Ocala more than two decades ago, he embraced her Puerto Rican heritage — and her big family. They love to move the Christmas tree out of the way to create a dance floor, where they party and drink coquito late into the night.

“No matter what, Christmas time you come together and celebrate the season,” he said.

An inflatable snowman rests on the bow of the Aegean Isles sponge dive boat, flanked by a great white shark and sea turtle, at the Sponge Exchange, an open-air market with souvenir shops, boutiques and cafes, at the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2021, in Tarpon Springs.
An inflatable snowman rests on the bow of the Aegean Isles sponge dive boat, flanked by a great white shark and sea turtle, at the Sponge Exchange, an open-air market with souvenir shops, boutiques and cafes, at the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2021, in Tarpon Springs. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

What are the most unique ways Floridians celebrate Christmas? Here are some of our favorites, inspired by reader and staffer observations:

A Christmas tree is pictured among palm trees, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021 in St. Pete Beach.
A Christmas tree is pictured among palm trees, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021 in St. Pete Beach. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Forget about fall foliage and traditional autumn to help you transition to the holidays.

Christmas decorations with a Florida twist are pictured at a home, Friday, Dec. 10, 2021 in St. Petersburg.
Christmas decorations with a Florida twist are pictured at a home, Friday, Dec. 10, 2021 in St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Hop on a Jet Ski instead of a sled.

A sailboat is pictured in the Vinoy yacht basin with the St. Pete Pier and the Christmas village in the background, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021 in St. Petersburg.
A sailboat is pictured in the Vinoy yacht basin with the St. Pete Pier and the Christmas village in the background, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021 in St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

When you miss the snow, assemble armies of inflatable yard decorations and hang light displays that would make Clark Griswold jealous.

An inflatable manger scene and other figures are pictured in a home’s front yard, Friday, Dec. 10, 2021 in Gulfport.
An inflatable manger scene and other figures are pictured in a home’s front yard, Friday, Dec. 10, 2021 in Gulfport. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Realize festive boat and golf cart parades are the norm.

A golf cart is decorated for Christmas, Friday, Dec. 10, 2021 in Gulfport.
A golf cart is decorated for Christmas, Friday, Dec. 10, 2021 in Gulfport. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Accessorize with both a Santa hat and flip-flops.

A pair of people wearing Christmas hats sit on a bench facing Christmas trees and lights across the Vinoy yacht basin, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021 in St. Petersburg.
A pair of people wearing Christmas hats sit on a bench facing Christmas trees and lights across the Vinoy yacht basin, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021 in St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Sweat in line at a theme park.

People walk among the holiday lights and decorations at Vinoy Park, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021 in St. Petersburg.
People walk among the holiday lights and decorations at Vinoy Park, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021 in St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Crank the air conditioning so it’s cold enough to use your fireplace at least once.

An inflatable snowman is pictured in a home’s front yard on a sunny afternoon, Friday, Dec. 10, 2021 in St. Petersburg.
An inflatable snowman is pictured in a home’s front yard on a sunny afternoon, Friday, Dec. 10, 2021 in St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Pose for holiday photos on the beach (bonus points if you make a snowman out of sand).

Natalia Vazquez, 6, of Tampa, smiles while playing a piano at Curtis Hixon Riverfront Park’s Winter Village in Tampa on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021.
Natalia Vazquez, 6, of Tampa, smiles while playing a piano at Curtis Hixon Riverfront Park’s Winter Village in Tampa on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Grill outside, soak in a hot tub or play tennis in the sunshine to flex on your family freezing up north.

An inflatable snowman peeks out of a restaurant’s balcony, Friday, Dec. 10, 2021 in Gulfport.
An inflatable snowman peeks out of a restaurant’s balcony, Friday, Dec. 10, 2021 in Gulfport. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Realize you don’t have a chimney, and that Santa will have to find a creative entry strategy.

A person walks along Beach Blvd, wearing a Santa hat, on a warm afternoon, Friday, Dec. 10, 2021 in Gulfport.
A person walks along Beach Blvd, wearing a Santa hat, on a warm afternoon, Friday, Dec. 10, 2021 in Gulfport. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]