Parade of Boats at Marina Jacks
Parade of Boats at Marina Jacks
St Armands Holiday Lights
St. Armands Holiday Lights
Selby's Annual Lights in Bloom event (Selby Gardens)
Deck The Halls at the Ca'd'Zan (Courtesy: The Ringling)

Merry, Jolly and Bright: Celebrate the 2018 Holiday Season in Sunny Sarasota County

'Tis the season when southwest Florida residents and visitors trade swimsuits for long sleeves, replace sand castles with "sand angels,” and enjoy a time-honored classic: Christmas lights.

The winter holidays have arrived in tropical Gulf Coast Florida. Although we forego the sleet and snow in December, Sarasota County keeps the holiday spirit aglow with a sugar-plum-packed schedule for the holiday season.

Crank up the A/C, warm a cup of cocoa, and settle in with our 2018 guide to seasonal celebrations geared to get folks in the mood for the winter holidays in Sarasota County. It's the most wonderful time of the year — with a tropical twist!

Seasonal Celebrations in Sarasota

Historic Spanish Point will showcase something new for the season in 2018. Holidays at the Point — a refreshing twist on past tradition, Holly Days and Mangrove Lights — is a weekend-long celebration of the holiday spirit of community and companionship that offers a different theme each day. Put on your snazziest dancing shoes: the "Rockin' Around the Point" tradition returns to Historic Spanish Point this year on December 15, featuring live holiday music and refreshments in the Sunken Garden and White Cottage Lawn. 

Also on December 15, the Sarasota National Cemetery honors veterans and fallen heroes in participation of National Wreaths Across America Day. Following a memorial ceremony, family members, and eventually the public, are invited to place wreaths on the graves of fallen heroes. The ceremony begins at 10:00 a.m. at the Sarasota National Cemetery, 9810 State Road 72.

Visit the Crosley Estate on December 23 (doors open at 11:00 a.m.) to spend an afternoon in a holiday wonderland with Santa Claus and the Christmas Fairy. Kids can decorate Christmas cookies and play reindeer games with the elves, while parents hit up the hot cocoa station. Settle in for story time when Santa arrives to read Christmas fables, and starting at 12:30 p.m., enjoy a special holiday lunch with the Christmas Fairy inside Santa's palace — where each child will receive a holiday gift. Ages 3-12 get in for $17 (must be accompanied by an adult); adult tickets are $32, and tots under three years of age are Santa's complimentary guests.

Take part in a charming, time-honored local Christmas tradition (since 1999) when you attend the Christmas Day parade in Sarasota's Amish and Mennonite community of Pinecraft. More than 1,000 people attend the Pinecraft Christmas Day Parade annually — the biggest public celebration in the community. To view the parade, assemble in the Der Dutchman parking lot at 3713 Bahia Vista Street before the parade kicks off and winds through the neighborhood, starting around 1:00 p.m., or shortly after lunch time.

Would there truly be a holiday season in circus-town Sarasota without a trapeze act? Attend the Sailor Circus' annual "Big Top Holidays Spectacular" taking place December 27 through December 30 at Nathan Benderson Park. More than 100 Sailor Circus youth students will showcase their best circus acrobatics in this holiday-themed production.

Letting Our Light Shine Across the County 

Stroll through Selby Gardens for their 15th annual Lights in Bloom event, which runs from December 20 through January 6 and transports light lovers to a tropical oasis of holiday splendor. The nightly event runs from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and pleases both adults and children. Visits from Santa and kids crafts entertain the littles, while grown-ups may appreciate the live entertainment and refreshments. Take a pause and admire the unique awesomeness of the décor as you overlook Sarasota Bay in a truly one-of-a-kind holiday experience.

If you have had the opportunity to traverse the Ca’ d’Zan mansion, home of John and Mable Ringling of circus fame, you know it is a magnificent time machine that allows you to experience first-hand what life was like as a one of the richest couples of the Roaring Twenties. The same genius team that maintains the integrity of this blast from the past pays homage to history with their annual holiday transformation. Deck the Halls, the self-guided tour of the first floor of the mansion, substitutes Target wreaths and DIY tchotchkes for traditional garlands, trees, and colors, adorning the home in a way that would make Mable proud. The queen of upscale events would have settled for nothing less than the best.

In much of the country, ice skating and snow tubing is simply part of the winter season. In Florida, such activities are a dream, but this year, it’s a dream come true. Holidays on the Green runs until January 6 at the University Town Center Mall , featuring 30 acres of glittering, illuminated palm trees, presents, boats, snowflakes, and beyond. Pop in and enjoy ice skating in the open air as carols play overhead. Race your friends and family in the snow – for many Florida kiddos, it’s their first time seeing the cold stuff. Live musicians -- many from local elementary schools and churches -- cascade the airwaves with their festive tunes. Suddenly, it’s ‘Beginning to look a lot like Christmas….”

Gather together and gander around St. Armands Circle where you can find a massive tree in the middle of streets lined with elegant décor. Lights abound on the Circle itself, the perfect place for a stroll with a cup of hot cocoa on those cool Florida nights. Not to mention, there’s more than 100 shops where you can find each of your loved ones something they’ll adore.