32nd Annual Holiday Boat Parade of Lights. Image courtesy of Marina Jacks
32nd Annual Holiday Boat Parade of Lights. Image courtesy of Marina Jacks

The Holly Jolly 2017 Guide to Holiday Events in Sarasota County

Check out the complete guide to events this holiday season in Sarasota County.

We may not have snow on the ground, here, but Sarasota is brimming with holiday cheer. Read on to get the scoop on Santa's favorite vacation spot—and where you might even spy him soaking up some Florida sunshine before his big day on the sleigh. Get cozy with a cup of cocoa and your calendar—we'll also fill you in on Chanukah celebrations, holiday parades and the most dazzling displays that light up the season in Sarasota County.

Welcome aboard the "Solar Express" to holiday fun in Sarasota.

Sarasota County Holiday Cheer Calendar

Caroling, candy cane hunting, Santa brunching and spectacular light displays on land and sea are just a handful of holiday highlights to look forward to throughout December.

Holiday Splendor at the Ringling (Dec. 7, 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.) supports the U.S. Marine Corps 'Toys for Tots' program. Enjoy holiday music performances from Sarasota elementary, middle and high school students in the museum courtyard, Bolger Campiello, and Ca d'Zan. All Ringling venues including the galleries and circus museum will also be open during the event. Admission is free with one unwrapped toy per guest or $15 for adults and $5 for kids ages 6 to 17; ages 5 and under free.

Deck the Halls at Ca d'Zan (Nov 30., Dec. 14, 21, 28 and Jan. 4, 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.) spotlights the extravagant 1920s-era Ringling mansion in all its holiday trimmings, open for select extended hours during the Ringling's Thursday evening "Art After 5" series.

Holidays Around the Ranch (Dec. 8, 6:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.) offers a chance to spot Santa's arrival on a magnificent horse-drawn carriage, enjoy festive caroling, and the annual tree lighting on Lakewood Ranch Main Street. The holiday spirit lingers all month long on Lakewood Ranch Main Street with Carriage Rides, Strolling Carolers and Santa Strolls (Dec. 6, 7, 14, 21, 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.) on Thursday evenings.

When the Farmers Market begins to wind down on Saturdays, stick around to meet Santa in Downtown Sarasota during his weekly appearance (Dec. 2, 9, 16, 1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.) downtown.

Sarasota's annual holiday indie craft market, the Atomic Holiday Bazaar (Dec. 9 and 10, 12:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.) is the spot to shop for unique art, crafts, clothes and more from some of Florida's coolest D.I.Y. artists, designers and vendors.

The 32nd annual Sarasota Holiday Boat Parade (Dec. 9, 6:00 p.m.) lights up the bay. Arrive early at Bayfront Park to snag a prime viewing spot, or snag reservations from Marina Jack for VIP viewing.

Fret not—unlike Buddy the Elf's journey from the North Pole, there's no need to travel through the Candy Cane Forest, the Sea of Swirly-Twirly Gumdrops, or the Lincoln Tunnel to arrive at The Ringling's Cinematic Celebration: "Elf" in the Ringling Courtyard (Dec. 15, 5:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.). Just don't forget to purchase tickets!

Girl Scouts of Gulfcoast Florida presents the 9th annual Gingerbread Festival (Dec. 15) at the Westfield Sarasota Square Mall, featuring a display of gingerbread houses from more than 150 participating schools, organizations, youth groups and local businesses.

The best time to schmooze with Santa is when he's at his jolliest: with a full belly. Join him for Breakfast with Santa at Newtown Estates (10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.) to secure your spot on the "Nice" list this year.

Sip hot cocoa, decorate Christmas cookies, play reindeer games, partake in a special holiday lunch, and enjoy Storytelling with Santa and the Christmas Fairy at the Crosley Estate (Dec. 17 and 23, 11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.). Tickets are $32 for adults and $17 for kids 12 and under.

Over one-million lights illuminate the bayside gardens at Selby Lights in Bloom (Dec. 21 through 30, 6:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.). Prior to Christmas Eve, Santa and his elves will make nightly visits to the tropical holiday paradise, where families can enjoy games, arts and crafts, and live entertainment nightly. Adult admission is $20; admission for kids 5-12 is $7.50, and tots get in for free. Register online.

The annual Pinecraft Christmas Parade gathers in the Der Dutchman parking lot at 1:00 p.m. on Christmas Day and commences through the community—consider bringing a lawn chair for a sidewalk seat. It's the largest event in Sarasota's Amish and Mennonite community, drawing over 1,000 spectators, annually, since its inception in 1999.

Festive South Sarasota County

Fret not if you missed Sarasota County's traditional "holiday season kick-off" with the four-decades-running Venice Holiday Parade on Thanksgiving weekend. Check out these South County yuletide offerings taking place throughout the month of December!

Wouldn't it be nice to knock out the bulk of your holiday shopping early in the month of December? Even better to support a local shop owner! The Annual Downtown Venice Christmas Walk (Dec. 7, 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.) takes place at the heart of downtown Venice along Venice Ave., Miami Ave., and Tampa Ave. with specials, discounts and holiday goodies from participating merchants.

Looking for more ways to fill the month of December with holiday cheer? The City of Venice offers a comprehensive calendar listing all Venice holiday events—so you won't miss a single holiday storytime, outdoor movie showing, 'holiday glow' festive bike ride, or chance to snack on Christmas cookies all month long.

Celebrate the 'Old Florida' splendor with festive lights and music during Holly Days and Mangrove Nights at Historic Spanish Point, which will remain open for extended hours until 8:00 p.m. on Thursday and Friday nights throughout the season (Nov. 24, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1; Dec. 7 and 8, 14 and 15, 21 and 22, and 29).

The annual North Port Tree Lighting, Poinsettia Festival and Parade (Dec. 9, 6:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.) is the main holiday event in North Port—featuring a fun and festive family carnival atmosphere with vendors and games, school choir carolers, and a "Gingerbread Land" contest at City Hall. Download the City of North Port's Holiday Guide Brochure for details on entering the Gingerbread Land contest, additional holiday events, and ways to embrace the spirit of the season by giving back locally during the holidays.

In the southernmost region of Sarasota County, be sure to check out a full schedule of festivities taking place in the charming town of Englewood with this continuously updated guide to holiday happenings in 2017.

Chanukah Celebrations

The Jewish Festival of Lights warms the holiday season in Sarasota. Chanukah takes place for eight days, beginning on the evening of December 12 (the 25th day of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar) and ending on the evening of December 20 in 2017.

Chabad of Sarasota and Manatee Counties will host a Thanksgiving Chanukah Celebration (Dec. 12, 6:00 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.) on the at Lakewood Ranch Main Street. Instead of the traditional Menorah, a Menorah will be assembled from cans of donated food to be lit on Lakewood Ranch Main Street on the first night of Chanukah. Participate by donating cans of food to the Chabad House at 5712 Lorraine Rd. prior to the event, or by bringing cans to the Dec. 12 celebration.

The Chabad of Venice and North Port will host a series of events during the eight days of Chanukah, including a giant Menorah lighting with music and hot latkes in Englewood (Dec. 12, 5:30 p.m.) at 420 W. Dearborne St., and at the Warm Mineral Springs in North Port (Dec. 14, 5:30 p.m.). 

Chabad of Venice and North Port closes out the Festival of Lights with the Chanukah Israel Klezmer Festival (Dec. 17, 4:30 - 6:30 p.m.) at Centennial Park in downtown Venice. In addition the the lighting of a 12' Menorah, the event features a huge "Dreidel House", a Hebrew School performance, music from the Freylekh Klezmer Band, matzah ball soup, latkes, sufganiyot and other traditional Jewish fare, and a replica of the Western Wall.

Close out Chanukah by celebrating A Taste of Chanukah (Dec. 17, 3:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.) with the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee at Phillippi Estate Park. The festival features kosher food, games, magicians, and daredevil performer, Bello Nock. Admission is $5; children get in free.

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Image courtesy of Sarasota Orchestra
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