The Weekender: finding holiday cheer in Florida

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By Emma Hamrick

Sunny skies and 80 degree weather typify a summer day for the majority of the U.S. Northern transplant students attending colleges in Florida often find it difficult to embrace the holiday spirit on a campus riddled with palm trees.

Although palm trees may not represent conventional Christmas decor, Florida boasts one of National Geographic’s top 10 holiday light displays in St. Augustine. Amidst the historic streets of the oldest city in the nation, twinkling white lights glisten on the roofs of local shops, museums, bars and restaurants during the annual Nights of Lights.

Throughout the evening, the streets bustle with carriage tours and trolleys packed with guests belting out the lyrics to classic carols. Guests sport reindeer sweaters, Santa hats and Christmas light necklaces to contribute to the seasonal spirit.

The light display envelops the entire downtown district of St. Augustine in white lights that provide the same ambiance of snow-covered tree limbs, without the bitter cold winter winds. Nevertheless, event goers cling to cups of warm cider and hot chocolate during the nightly light viewings.

Nights of Lights provides a holiday experience despite the warm climate, but St. Augustine offers more for visitors outside of the seasonal offerings.

St. George Street, the city’s main tourist walkway, hosts countless locally owned businesses and signature dining experiences to enjoy with friends and family. Walking the cobblestone streets and taking in the ambiance of live music pouring from pubs along the way provides an immersive experience exclusive to the city.

Architecturally, the city’s Lightner Museum and Flagler College represent some of the town’s most iconic landmarks and most impressive Nights of Lights displays. The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine and the Mission of Nombre de Dios, on the other hand, offer insight into the Catholic origins of the city.

Along the Matanzas Bayfront, visitors frequently stop by the Castillo de San Marcos to take in one of the country’s oldest masonry forts. The Bayfront also houses some of St. Augustine’s primer eateries that also compete in a Nights of Lights decor competition amongst themselves.

Although visiting the beach may deplete the holiday spirit offered by downtown St. Augustine’s light displays, the beachfront still offers ideal locations for soaking in the sunshine and searching for shells along the seashore.

While Florida’s warm weather suppresses holiday spirit for some, light displays offered by cities similar to St. Augustine allow for a Christmas season unique to Florida. Coupled with the city’s historic flare and sightseeing opportunities, St. Augustine becomes an ideal location for spending time with loved ones throughout the season.

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