7 Ways to Celebrate
An Old-Fashioned Christmas
A family excursion to Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales is worth the trip to check out the unspoiled beauty of this National Historic Landmark.
Chad Baumer Photography
If too many twinkle-lighted palm trees and Christmas boat parades make your heart yearn for the trappings of an old-fashioned holiday, let nostalgia be your guide. Central Florida buzzes with seasonal activities of every festive stripe, and we’ve found seven ways guaranteed to light that holiday fire.
Explore the Gardens
A family excursion to Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales is worth the trip to check out the unspoiled beauty of this National Historic Landmark, celebrating Christmas Nov. 25-Jan. 8. Stroll among poinsettia, amaryllis and bromeliad displays and check out the Christmas tree of 350 bromeliads just outside the historic Pinewood Estate. The iconic 205-foot Singing Tower carillon serenades visitors with live holiday concerts. The garden’s calendar of special events includes walking tours, a wreath workshop, and holiday gingerbread house decorating with Mrs. Claus. Step into a time machine to the 1940s for “Holi-DAYS at Pinewood Estate” each Tuesday, Nov. 29-Dec. 27 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Included in admission, this weekly event showcases vintage Model A cars and meet-and-greets with historical characters of the ‘40s and “surprise personalities from the past.” Admission: $20 adults; $9 children 5-12. Workshops and some events are priced separately.
(DMITRY VERESHCHAGIN PHOTOGRAPHY)
Hop a sled, strap on ice skates
On Dec. 12, Donnelly Park in Mount Dora turns into a family-fun wintertime paradise during Mount Dora Christmas in the Park with Snow as 60 tons of fluffy ice is sprayed across the hilly landscape. The free event, from 5-9 p.m., attracts thousands of outdoor enthusiasts who can’t wait to grab a sled and participate in the cool running. Donate a canned food item or a new, unwrapped toy and you’ll get a “fast-pass” ticket to ride. Then test your Olympic mettle with some fancy twirls on the ice-skating rink before grabbing a treat from the concession area. Holiday decorations light up the night, and Santa takes wish-list requests on the porch of City Hall from 7-9 p.m. mountdorachristmas.com
(KARRAH FLORES PHOTOGRAPHY)
Revel in Victorian opulence
Dress up for the “Christmas Spectacular” holiday home tour of the gilded Stetson Mansion from Nov. 15-Jan. 15. The sumptuous 1886 manor built for cowboy hat maker John B. Stetson is known for its elaborate designer decorations and this year draws inspiration from the almost-200-year-old Christmas carol, “Silent Night” and the play A Christmas Carol. One of the first homes in the world to have electric Christmas tree lights provided by Stetson’s friend, Thomas Edison, the three-story Victorian in DeLand will glow with silver and gold, 20 decked-out trees and 15 crèches from around the world. Reservations are required for the $25 per person tours at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 and 5 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day, as well as the day before each of the three holidays. stetsonmansion.com
(WALTER SCRIPTUNAS II/2012 TAVARES, EUSTIS & GULF, LLC)
Climb aboard the Cannonball Christmas Express
This original 1907 steam train is gussied up for a holiday round trip with Santa Claus between Mount Dora and Tavares. Start off at the station platform with cookies and apple cider, then board the train for a family holiday experience that includes a visit from the jolly ol’ man himself. Each of the vintage train’s coaches is decorated with lights and garland, and passengers can join in spirited singalongs or listen as holiday train ambassadors capture the spirit of the season as they recite, ’Twas the Night Before Christmas and tell the story of The Christmas Train. Sixty-nine round trips on the Cannonball Christmas Express are planned for the following dates: Nov. 25-27, Dec. 2-4, Dec. 9-11, Dec. 16-18 and Dec. 21-24. Adults, $28; children 3-12, $20. Ages 2 and under ride free. orangeblossomcannonball.com
Soak up holiday splendor
Meet Santa Claus in style Dec. 6 from 4-8 p.m. at the richly restored Casa Feliz Spanish farmhouse in Winter Park, designed by architect James Gamble Rogers II. Decorated with fresh greens, pinecones and glowing lights for the holidays, the historic home with a Majolica-tiled interior courtyard and fountain sets Santa’s workshop against an exotic Mediterranean backdrop. Families can join Santa’s elves to make crafts, nosh on cookies and lemonade, and listen to sounds of the season while awaiting an audience with the snowy-bearded one. Boost your holiday spirit with a self-guided tour of the main floor and grounds. The free event (donations accepted) is sponsored through a grant from Commerce National Bank and Trust of Winter Park. Be sure to get your photo taken with Santa for $15. casafeliz.us/christmas-at-the-casa
(THE CHARLES HOSMER MORSE MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART)
Embrace the beauty of downtown Winter Park’s seasonal celebration Dec. 1, when the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art shares its rare Tiffany window treasures in Central Park. Bring a blanket or lawn chairs to the free event and set up early to watch the 6:15 p.m. lighting of nine leaded-glass windows that include Tiffany Studios’ exquisite “Christmas Eve” window, c. 1902, depicting a figure resembling Father Christmas holding the Christ child. Eight other windows carry religious themes. The holiday mood envelops the park and the glowing window art as the Bach Festival Choir, Youth Choir, and Brass Ensemble present a concert co-sponsored by the museum and the City of Winter Park. This year marks the 38th Christmas in the Park event that was launched by Morse benefactors Hugh and Jeannette McKean as a gift to the public. The museum, celebrating 75 years in February 2017, also hosts free Holiday Friday Nights, Nov. 25-Dec. 30, with live musical performances from 5-8 p.m. morsemuseum.org
Take a tour back in time
If visions of holiday décor are dancing in your head, shift your car into drive and head for the Sanford Holiday Tour of Homes Dec. 3 from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. The Sanford Historic Trust returns to its roots this year, replacing its walking Candlelight Tour with the original self-guided daytime driving tour first hosted in 1989. You can visit historic decked-out homes built from the early 1900s through mid-century while listening to carolers and chatting with homeowners. From rustic wreaths and poinsettia-bedecked porches to elegantly draped doorways and bow-tied fir trees, the tasteful decorations may inspire your own creative holiday efforts. Tour tickets: $25 per person, including children. sanfordhistorictrust.org