Maybe it’s because the Florida Keys, the southernmost islands in the continental United States, have never experienced a traditional white Christmas. Or it might be simply because Keys residents love to celebrate special occasions.
Attendees at a past Holiday Fest marvel at the lighted and decorated tree blowing “magical” snow. (All photos courtesy of the Islamorada Chamber of Commerce)
But whatever the reason, despite our subtropical climate, we go a little overboard with our holiday decorations (if you’ve ever seen an inflatable 10-foot-tall reindeer perched atop a small houseboat, you’ll know what I mean) and throw ourselves gleefully into extended merrymaking.
In fact, from Key Largo to Key West, the calendar is packed with events designed to spread seasonal cheer — including a traditional Islamorada favorite that features actual snow.
Yes, despite the Keys’ typically balmy winter temperatures, grownups and kids of all ages can delight in snow Friday, Dec. 2, during Islamorada’s annual Florida Keys Holiday Fest.
It takes place on the beach at Founders Park (located at mile marker 87 bayside), and its anticipated highlight is a 30-ton snow mountain that’s perfect for making subtropical snowballs (and taking snow-covered selfies!). The fun is set for 4-10 p.m., so there’s plenty of time to enjoy it.
But that’s not the only snow sighting you can expect at the seasonal celebration. Organizers are also planning a 35-foot-tall tree with “magical” snow blowing from its branches — and its ceremonial lighting is slated for 6 p.m., shortly after sunset.
Santa’s Sweet Shoppe offers seasonal treats to delight revelers.
Plus don’t miss the festive parade, now in its 18th year. The 2022 parade is themed “Celebrating the Holidays Through the Centuries (1823-2023)” in honor of the upcoming 200th anniversary of the establishment of the Keys’ Monroe County.
Scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m., the parade will feature decorated floats, marching bands, antique cars and (of course) an appearance by jolly old St. Nick and his reindeer, who will make their grand entrance in a fire truck fully decked out for the holidays.
Musical and dance performances are to enliven the outdoor stage throughout the festival — along with contests to choose “Miss Sugar Plum Fairy” and “Mister Gingerbread Man,” and the top three and “people’s choice” for the elaborate (and delicious) gingerbread house entries.
Well-behaved four-legged companions are welcome to join two-legged “party animals” on the stage as they prance in their own Santa Paws Pet Parade and vie for prizes for best (ahem!) doggone holiday attire.
The arrival of this jolly fellow is traditionally a highlight of the annual Holiday Fest.
The on-site bazaar promises gift items, jewelry, crafts, baked goods and gourmet baskets — a great opportunity to find that perfect item for someone special. The highly anticipated ornament silent auction features 50 hand-painted ceramic pieces created and donated by local artists. You can bid on these one-of-a-kind Keys keepsakes until 9 p.m.
As if all that isn’t enough, adults can sample a wide variety of food items, enjoy hot buttered rum and craft beer, or sip fine wines at the always popular Vino Village. And Santa’s Sweet Shoppe will offer tempting coffees, decadent desserts and treats.
Admission to the evening of revelry is free. (FYI, the festival is also plastic-free — so please bring a reusable non-glass drink container if possible.)
Enjoyable as it always is, Holiday Fest is just one of the upcoming island-style celebrations of the season. Between now and the new year, you’ll find events designed to jingle your bells all around the Florida Keys. “Keys Voices” will present highlights in the future posts — but you can get a preview by checking out the calendar here.