Snow for Christmas is overrated. My dream Christmas has always been to be somewhere warm, but I could never get my Midwestern family on board with that. Now that I am divorced and live in Florida, 2011 was my opportunity to live the dream.
My older son and his family hosted his dad and my daughter-in-law’s dad at their home in Wisconsin. My younger son actually had to work on Christmas in Chicago. My sisters were occupied with their own plans and I had just visited them at Thanksgiving. So I was “on my own” this holiday season for the first time. Staying in Delray Beach, eating Christmas Eve dinner outside and dancing under the stars on New Year’s Eve has definitely spoiled me. I never want to go north for the holidays again.
Although Christmas and New Year’s seem much more laid back here, Florida residents don’t skimp on decorations. And why should they? You can put up lights without freezing your patootie off. I hadn’t planned to even decorate but once my neighbors starting lighting up, it was game on. I had to represent my side of the courtyard, wrapping strands of white lights around the Dr. Seuss-like palms by my back porch. Traditional evergreen swags don’t cut it here. For my wreath I bought about 5 feet of plastic silver frosted leaves, twirled them in a circle, and put a beautiful, sparkly peace sign (the word, not the symbol) in the middle. I put my small artificial Christmas tree outside for others to enjoy, too, since I didn’t plan to have any presents under it.
Shopping was so easy without the bother of piling on warm outerwear and worrying about dodging blizzards (although it was a pretty mild season in the Midwest this year), that I almost ignored it altogether. It was easy to wait til the last minute, knowing that icy roads would not be a factor in getting to the mall. Plus, the malls here weren’t even that crowded because the snowbirds don’t return until after Christmas. There was no fighting the crowds, not even at the small post office/gift shop in my neighborhood between the Chinese restaurant and nail salon where I mailed my packages to my Midwest family.
Christmas Eve was a beautiful event, with neighbors setting up a long dining table outside, decorated with candles down the middle. There was a separate table for food – slow cooked pork, deep fried turkey, leg of lamb, and a variety of international dishes contributed by neighbors (about 35 of us). The children sat on pillows at a large coffee table set up on the grass. I barely heard Santa mentioned. The emphasis was on sharing food and being kind.
I thought the ultimate activity would be to go to the beach on Christmas Day, but I chose to do one of my favorite things in the world instead – work on my flower garden.
Several days after Christmas I met friends for lunch who had come to Florida for a nontraditional Christmas. Becky and Beth’s priority was to get away from the stress of the holidays in Texas and really relax. They went kayaking, hunted for shells, and enjoyed seafood dinners with stone crabs. “We both had no trouble totally unplugging and remaining off the grid when surrounded by such natural beauty,” Becky said. They even rented a convertible to soak up every little bit of Florida sunshine.
“We spent some time reflecting on past Christmas memories of our moms (whom we both no longer have) and could feel that they were smiling down on us because we were doing what makes us happy instead of what others might want us to do,” added Becky.
My holidays continued with dancing to Latin music on New Year’s Eve under the stars in our courtyard. I didn’t know a lot of the people who attended, many of whom were friends of neighbors, but it was exciting to be so energized by music that I danced to til I just about dropped. There was plenty of Sangria, but I didn’t see anyone so drunk they were impaired, as I often did in the Midwest. I don’t know if it was the outdoor setting or the dancing, but I felt a more spiritual sense of rebirth with the passing of the old year and coming of the new year. We were actually on the earth, the grass, under the sky, as the planet spun into 2012.
Judy Kirkwood will be at home in South Florida for all future Christmases.