Arts and culture

Courtesy of Dorothy Sabean

Here's an email we received from St. Petersburg resident Dorothy "Dee" Sabean as part of our Florida Holidays project:

Every Christmas tradition has a beginning, and I am writing about one such beginning this very season.

I was born and bred in Massachusetts, accustomed to frigid winter walks to view the manger on the public square, singing Christmas carols in the biting cold, lolling by a roaring fire, unwrapping Christmas footie pajamas with a cup of hot cocoa in hand.

Fast-forward to Florida some 40 years later, and my husband and I were at a loss. Palm trees? Santa in Bermuda shorts? Such a sea-change, it was hard to bear! 

As our Florida Christmases progressed, we grew to appreciate the fact that this is also the best possible weather season. Talk about gifts! I can walk from my car to the shopping mall and not experience blue fingers and toes?

So string lights on the palm trees. Surely, Jesus was born in the land of dates! Instead of that hot cocoa, how about a peppermint candy-cane martini? Slowly, we added more and more un-New England ideas to our holiday each year. 

This year, I discovered the purest and simplest celebration of all. With the sad and sobering events at Sandy Hook Elementary School, my thoughts and prayers went to all of the families of those deceased and wounded. Any kind of celebration, Christmas included, hit a minor note.

Courtesy of James White

Some folks put a Florida twist on a classic holiday song. Then there's James "Sunny Jim" White of Osprey. The professional singer/songwriter recorded his own original Christmas carol a few years ago, as he explained in an email to WUSF:

"It's kind of special to me, as I recorded that with my then 10 year old twin daughters singing the 'angel' parts," White wrote.

"We lived in the Cayman Islands for 12 years. I was the entertainer at the Hyatt Regency there. When we moved to Florida in 2001, we felt right at home. I have lots of fans from 'the frozen North' (anywhere north of Tallahassee!) and this was kind of a jab at them having to deal with harsh winters, but in a loving way!"

All together now:

Todd Webster / The Front Porch Cafe

Dec. 24 is Nochebuena - Christmas Eve - and for many Hispanics, that means roasting a whole pig. This Christmas tradition scared journalist and author Carlos Frías as a boy. But he got through it with one piece of advice: “Never look a pig in the eye.”

Frías told a version of this story at a Lip Service Miami event:

Wade Mullins

When listener Wade Mullins sent us this photo for our Florida Holidays project, we couldn't resist soliciting captions. The following are suggestions from the elves on the WUSF Facebook page.

New Grassroots Tampa Transit Organization Kicks Off

Dec 18, 2012
Associated Press

A new Grassroots movement launched today, and their aim is to get the Tampa Bay area to invest in more viable transportation.  

Whether it's biking, walking or driving, the new organization Connect Tampa Bay is hoping to make it easier for residents to get around.

Organizers say the movement sparked from the failed 2010 Hillsborough county transit referendum.  It would have added a 1% sales tax increase to help pay for transportation improvements.

Connect Tampa Bay executive director Kevin Thurman says the program has three steps.  

Robin Sussingham / WUSF

A third of the dogs coming in to the Hillsborough County pound are one type of breed -- pit bulls. They're hard to adopt out,and most will be euthanized after only five days. But a new program at the shelter is trying to save some of those lives.

The Pit Bull Ambassadors are a select group of pit bulls with a mission: to convince more people to love the breed, and to take them home.

Pam Perry, the investigations manager for  Hillsborough County Animal Services, says, "It's about changing people's stereotype that these are bad dogs. These are great dogs. They're not bad dogs."

Perry calls pit bulls special needs dogs. She says they're far more likely to be abused than other breeds.

Nearly everyone reported so many things wrong in the first 24 hours after the Sandy Hook shootings that it's hard to single out any one news organization or reporter for criticism.

Florida Holidays: Christmas Morning Mimosas

Dec 14, 2012
Dinner Series / Flickr Creative Commons

Here's an email we received from listener Beth Daniels:

I loved the radio piece about the smoked mullet gifts that friends look forward to with such relish.  It made me think of my own special Florida tradition. 

Being born and raised in St. Pete, I love a nice sunny Christmas Day. As I went away to college and met more and more folks from other climates, I grew tired of people always saying, “Oh, don’t you miss the snow?” or “What is Christmas without snow in the fir trees?”

Last time I checked, there were a lot more palm trees than evergreens and snow in Bethlehem. Just sayin'.

YouTube screen shot

Confession: Publix holiday commercials turn me to mush.

Maybe it's the music. Maybe it's because I'm already in the holiday spirit. Or maybe it's just good marketing.

Whenever a holiday approaches, I brace myself for a good cry, courtesy of the Lakeland-based supermarket chain.

The ads are like little movies. Even the Spanish-language commercials fill my eyes with lágrimas.

This one from 2008 still gets to me:

Arthur Price of New York City asked this provocative question: "Is it my imagination or is NPR featuring an excessive number of Republican voices when it comes to the so-called 'fiscal cliff'?"

I didn't know, but I loved the issue he raised. Its relevance in influencing today's fierce tax and spending debate as we approach the Jan. 1 supposed "cliff" is obvious. But perhaps even more interesting, I thought, was the insight it might offer into political bias by NPR in general.

Department stores are mostly full of the same old stuff, so we went trolling online for some Florida-themed (read: kitschy) holiday gift ideas. Check out these real products we found on the web.

The techie in your life may already have an iPhone 5, but we bet he or she doesn't have a kayak Christmas tree case for it. We found this one for $44.95 at

Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF

Here's a holiday tradition in Tampa's Hyde Park neighborhood: Residents wrap the old oaks and palm trees that line South Boulevard with tiny white twinkle lights. Folks come from all over to drive down the street from Swann Avenue to Bayshore Boulevard to view the lights.

Dalia Colón / WUSF

I spotted this oh-so-Florida decoration on my neighbor's lawn in Brandon. I thought it was prime caption material -- and apparently, many of you agreed. Here's what folks on WUSF's Facebook page thought up. Leave your own clever ideas in the comments section below.

Jon Tallon: Cinderella boy... outta nowhere to win the Masters.

Jeff Finn: Lazy unionized reindeer.

YouTube screen shot

Even before we came up with our Florida Holidays project, Aleida Morse was getting into the spirit.

Morse teaches performing arts at Academy at the Lakes in Land O' Lakes. Many years ago, her third-graders rewrote The 12 Days of Christmas to make it a bit more... Florida.

Geese a-laying and a partridge in a pear tree? Not so much. But Florida panthers and a big glass of sweet tea? That's more like it. (At the bottom of this post, you can read the full lyrics to the song.)

When his teenage son ventured into social media, Virginia father Mike Robinson wanted to make sure he could keep tabs on him. Robinson works in IT, so he rigged a surveillance system that works no matter what kind of device either of them is on.

"It's sort of like a version of remote desktop that enables you to run the program kind of silently in the background," Robinson says.

One day, checking in from his iPhone, Robinson discovered that his son had come across an adult meet-up site on Facebook.

Sunset Beach's tradition is the Holiday Stroll. It's a cross between Halloween and Christmas, with a dash of New Year’s Eve thrown in for good measure.

A parade route is designated in the neighborhood. Local residents wear costumes. They even dress their pets in costumes. I am ashamed to say many of the costumes are not exactly what one would call "Christmas sensitive." In fact, many would be more appropriate at the Gasparilla Night Parade.

Residents along the route put out folding tables offering food and drink. Mostly drink. Almost exclusively drink. 

EVE EDELHEIT / Tampa Bay Times

The Tampa Bay Times recently profiled Gretchen Molannen, a 39-year-old suffering from a condition called persistent genital arousal disorder.

According to the Times, it is “a debilitating condition marked by continuous sexual arousal. Women who have the disorder are physically but not psychologically aroused.”

For Molannen, having the disorder meant she couldn’t work. She said she had attempted suicide at least three times in the past year.

Courtesy of Robin Sussingham

For my  family, the traditional holiday food is smoked mullet.

My father, Bob Trohn, has been catching and smoking mullet at his home on the river in Palmetto for more than a quarter century. When the extended family all congregate there at Christmas-time, there's always enough smoked mullet to eat and to give away to friends.

I followed my father around the dock one weekend, to see how it's done.  (A version of the story originally aired on American Public Media's Weekend America).

Courtesy of Valerie Alker

Here's a sweet memory from Valerie Alker, host of All Things Considered on WGCU in Fort Myers. Val shared this tale as part of our Florida Holidays project. We'd love to hear your stories, too.

The signs of Christmas are everywhere.  Salvation Army bell ringers, decked-out stores and Christmas muzak streaming from speakers.  But through it all, the Florida sun shines, striking an odd note for some us whose  impressions of the season were formed our Northern childhoods.

The contrast was particularly marked my first Florida Christmas. My brother and I had just moved here to live with our dad.

You may have heard about it already -- a disturbing photo of a man, just pushed in front of a subway, seconds from his death.

The New York Post published the photo on the front page with the headline, "Doomed."

Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute's Sense-making Project says this boils down to two ethical questions:

1. When should a photographer put the camera down and try to help a potential victim?

2. When should newspapers print disturbing photos?