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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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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.
What are the most unique ways Floridians celebrate Christmas? Here are some of our favorites, inspired by reader and staffer observations:
Forget about fall foliage and traditional autumn to help you transition to the holidays.
Hop on a Jet Ski instead of a sled.
When you miss the snow, assemble armies of inflatable yard decorations and hang light displays that would make Clark Griswold jealous.
Realize festive boat and golf cart parades are the norm.
Accessorize with both a Santa hat and flip-flops.
Sweat in line at a theme park.
Crank the air conditioning so it’s cold enough to use your fireplace at least once.
Pose for holiday photos on the beach (bonus points if you make a snowman out of sand).
Grill outside, soak in a hot tub or play tennis in the sunshine to flex on your family freezing up north.
Realize you don’t have a chimney, and that Santa will have to find a creative entry strategy.