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Christmas in a warm paradise

Published December 21. 2013 09:00AM

My daughter used a strange word to describe Christmas decorations in Florida.

"It's almost obscene to see Christmas decorations in this heat," she says.

"It's like trying to celebrate Christmas in the summer."

While the rest of the country flocks to Florida at this time of year because of our balmy weather, my daughter insists it can't be Christmas when it feels like a heat wave here.

She thinks it's not Christmas without snow - or at least cold weather.

She's not the only one who says that. Northern visitors, or transplants from northern climates, often remark that "it doesn't feel like Christmas" in this glorious Florida weather.

When I first moved to Florida, I remarked to a neighbor that the short-sleeve weather "didn't feel like Christmas." She threatened to shoot the next person who said that.

"Where do people get that screwy idea that it has to be cold and snowy for Christmas?" she questioned.

Well, I know where.

We all grew up listening to Christmas songs that associate Christmas with snow and cold.

Think about all the Christmas songs that refer to snow.

Even "Jingle Bells," one of the best-known Christmas songs, starts with a reference to snow:

"Dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh."

And, of course, there's "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow" crooned by Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Vaughn Monroe.

What many people don't know is that "Let it Snow" was written by Sammy Cahn in Hollywood, California, during one of the hottest days on record. The song has been sung for 75 years, but I doubt that it brought snow where and when it was written.

Just about everyone has heard Bing Crosby croon, "I'm dreaming of a White Christmas." And we all we think we know the words.

But here's the first verse you might not know:

"The sun is shining, the grass is green,

The orange and palm greens sway,

I've never seen such a day in Beverly Hills, L.A.

But it's December the 24th and I'm longing to be up North."

Here in Florida our streets, stores and restaurants are jammed with what we call "snowbirds." Thousands of people come here for Christmas to escape the snow and bad weather "up north."

So, what's it like to celebrate Christmas here in Southwest Florida?

Glorious, superb, spectacular. But just a bit different.

While there are Christmas parades all over the country, here we have an annual lighted boat parade. People decorate their motorboats and sailboats for a spectacular lighted boat parade that is a highlight of the season. Some of the boats have elaborate themes and staged scenery that rivals the Rose Boat parade.

One of my best Christmas memories is that of being a dancing elf on our friend, Jim's boat, the Dancing Dragon. A huge lighted dragon took up the entire front of the boat while the dancing elves went crazy dancing along the sides. People cheered and clapped as we passed and many started dancing, too.

For me, it was an all-time Christmas high.

We string lights on our palm trees, our lanais and our boat docks, creating our own wonderland.

Many of us decorate our Christmas trees with a nautical theme more suited to our seashore area. Our shell club turns seashells into the cleverest decorations. I wish I could send you close up photos of their unique work.

In many ways, Christmas is exactly the same here as it is any place else. Stores are crowded with shoppers trying to find perfect gifts for loved ones and the Christmas spirit seems to have reached hearts.

People are definitely nicer at this time of year, smiling at everyone and remembering to give generously to those in need.

I was proud of our kayak club members when they decided not to do our annual gift exchange at our Christmas party. Instead, we are using the money to donate to our local food bank. That makes us feel better than any gift could.

When you get to be this age, we know Christmas is all about giving, not about getting.

We also know Christmas is all about family - both our biological family and the family of friends we have made for ourselves.

There is definitely something about Christmas that draws us "home" again - wherever home may be. That's why planes are jammed and roads are clogged as many of us journey home.

For me, home is where my children are. When my husband and I can't lure our grown kids to sunny Florida, we make the trek "up north."

Every year we mutter that we must be crazy as we run into sleet, freezing rain and numbing cold.

By the time you read this, we will be on our way to New Jersey. Trust me, we won't be singing "Let it snow, let it snow."

I'd rather get sunburn than get caught in another snowstorm. Last time we were there we were hit with a record 21 inches of snow.

I'll be cold the entire time I am "up north," but it will be worth it because we'll be with family.

And isn't that what Christmas is all about? Wishing you a blessed Christmas filled with the true riches of life.

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