Florida Holidays

Florida doesn’t do anything by the book -- that includes celebrating the holidays. So this season, WUSF is extolling all the ways to enjoy the holidays with a Florida twist... and we want your input.

Tell us about your Florida holiday tradition. Does your family take part in a lighted boat parade, lace up for a jingle bell run or spend New Year’s Eve making sand sculptures?

Then there are the decorations. Show us your seashell ornaments, palm trees wrapped in lights and flamingoes in Santa hats.

We want your recipes, too. Do you dress your gingerbread men in Bermuda shorts or dip your latkes in Key lime jelly?

And how to do show out-of-town guests a good time in the warm weather? Do you take them caroling down the beach or spend all eight nights of Hanukkah at Disney?

Get creative. Share your photos, videos, recipes, tweets, memories, short essays and anything else that would make us say, “That’s so Florida!”

Your submission might end up on wusfnews.org/floridaholidays... or even on the radio.

Here are some ways to join the fun:

  • Post a photo or short story on our wall at Facebook.com/WUSF.
  • Send a tweet to @WUSF with the hashtag #floridaholidays.
  • Leave a phone message for WUSF reporter/producer Dalia Colón at (813) 974-8636.
  • Email Dalia at daliacolon@wusf.org.

We’ll collect your submissions through Dec. 21 at 5 p.m. Check this blog daily for new content, and listen WUSF 89.7 through the end of the year to hear how your fellow Floridians celebrate the season.

How To Shoot Photos Of Fireworks

Jul 4, 2013

Spectacular firework displays are the grand finale of big Fourth of July celebrations.

Boston Globe freelance photographer Aram Boghosian will be at Boston’s Charles River Esplanade for tonight’s event and has some tips for how to take great photographs.

Happy Independence Day, From NPR

Jul 4, 2013

It's simple, we just want to wish you a happy holiday weekend from NPR, wherever your taste buds take you.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Dalia Colón / WUSF

There are 202 shopping days left until Christmas, but there was plenty of holiday cheer to go around last week at the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Tampa.

Two Florida-natives-turned-Rockettes stopped by Patel Conservatory at the Straz Center to teach a master class for local dance students. The event was part of the Straz Center's daylong kickoff promoting its 2013-2014 season, which includes the Radio City Christmas Spectacular in December.

Here's video from the class:

Amy Mariani

Looks like Rudolph may have some competition this year.

WUSF listener Amy Mariani spied a red-nosed manatee accompanying Santa Claus just off US 19 at the entrance of the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. 

"Santa realizes a reindeer just won't cut it through the swamplands and springs," Mariani said.

Who says there's no snow in Florida? Becky Wanamaker shared this story on WUSF's Facebook page.

Every December, our family drives to Orlando for a little winter wonderland fun at the Gaylord Palm's ICE! show.

We bundle up in those big heavy blue coats and marvel at the beautiful sculptures that created wonderful Christmas vignettes.

The kids (old and young) enjoy sliding down the ice slides. After we've had as much of the 9º temperature we can take, we head over to the atrium for some hot chocolate, conversation and entertainment.


The subject line of Peggy Bode's email pretty much says it all: "That's so Florida." So without further ado, here's the note we received from the Anna Maria Island resident as part of our Florida Holidays project:

Our family tradition was to go camping every Christmas at various places in Florida. It was always a challenge to create a traditional Christmas dinner at a campground, so we often resorted to unconventional holiday fare such as hot dogs and potato chips. However, I always baked a couple of pumpkin pies to take with us so we at least we would have one Christmas standard available to remind us of holidays past. 

We camped in a conversion van for many years. One Christmas more than 20 years ago, we arrived at the campground after dark and started setting up camp. Our van doors were open because we needed access to our camping gear as we settled into our site. 

I had just grabbed some supplies from the van to place on the picnic table and was walking back to the van when, just as I got to the sliding van door, a pumpkin pie flew past my head, and then another one landed at my feet. 

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.

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:


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 zazzle.com.

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.)


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. 

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.

Courtesy of Paul Taylor

While folks up North are huddling around a fireplace and donning ugly Christmas sweaters, we Floridians can celebrate the holidays al fresco. With Tampa's average high temperature of 72 degrees in December, the weather outside is anything but frightful.

Here's how some Floridians enjoy the great outdoors during the holidays.