Celebrating the Holidays in Sarasota: Winter Festivities in 2016

It’s the season for cocoa and sand angels. Learn about the holiday activities post-Thanksgiving.

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? On the beach, the sun is glistening—in the Gulf waves, that is...

'Tis the season to sip hot cocoa and make 'sand angels' (in lieu of snow) in the powder-white sands of Siesta Beach and Lido Key. The holidays have arrived in sunny Sarasota County, and our balmy beachside towns are decking the streets with mistletoe and merriment.

Get the scoop on all the holiday parades and festivals, tree lightings, Santa sightings, Chanukah celebrations, and New Year's Eve bashes taking place throughout Sarasota County this winter season.

Post-Thanksgiving: Events to Launch the Holiday Season

Consider Friday a day of rest to snooze off your Thanksgiving turkey coma—you'll want to be rested up for Saturday, Nov. 26, when downtown Venice and the Siesta Village kick off the yuletide season with festive parades.

The Venice Holiday Parade is a 40 year tradition in south Sarasota County and one of the largest events in downtown Venice, drawing over 3000 participants annually to light up the town. More than 120 local companies, churches, schools and organizations participate in the parade, which features live music and holiday decorations. Pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers and beverages will be available for purchase along the parade route by local high schools, nonprofits, booster clubs and Scouts. Pre-parade festivities begin at 5pm at the corner of Harbour Drive and West Venice Avenue. The parade takes place at 7pm.

The beachside Siesta Key Village celebrates its annual Light Up the Village Parade and Open House from 6pm-9pm on Nov. 26. Santa and his elves will be present (arriving by fire truck at 6:15pm), and the first 250 children will receive Santa's gift bags, courtesy of the Beach Bazaar. Enjoy face painting, free trolley rides from the beach to the Village (5pm-10pm) and holiday music from the Pine View High School Jazz Band, Keyboard Players and choirs as you browse the holiday-decorated Village shops.

Sugar plum fairies may be spotted dancing through the Ca' d'Zan mansion and The Ringling courtyard on Dec. 1 during the Ringling's Holiday Splendor extravaganza, beginning at 5:30pm. Enjoy holiday music and performances by local elementary, middle and high schools in the Museum of Art courtyard and Bolger Campiello (next to the Ca' d'Zan). Food and beverage will be available for purchase at this event, supporting Toys for Tots in Sarasota and Manatee County. Admission is free with one unwrapped toy per guest, or $15 for adults and $5 for children ages 6-17.

The holiday season makes its official arrival in downtown Sarasota on Thursday, Dec. 1 with the annual Christmas tree lighting at Five Points Park at 7pm. Join the Sarasota Downtown Merchants for this festive fête to celebrate the season with guest of honor, Santa Claus.

In south Sarasota County, the North Port Tree Lighting and Poinsettia Festival takes place on Dec. 2 from 6pm-9:30pm at the City Center Complex, 4970 City Hall Blvd. The event features live music from local school choirs and the Velvet Jones Band, a holiday shopping village, gingerbread house display, visits with Santa, bumper cars, food vendors, and more.

The 38th Annual Holiday Night on St. Armands takes place on Dec. 2 from 6pm-9pm. The shopping and dining district kicks off its holiday season with performances by the Sarasota High School Theatre Dance Group and Chamber Choir at 5:30pm, followed by a Christmas Carol sing-along at 6pm. Santa will be on site for photos from 6:30pm-8pm, and throughout the evening St. Armands Circle restaurants and shops will provide in-store entertainment and special promotions.

The holidays get into full swing in downtown Sarasota with the annual Sarasota Holiday Parade taking place 7-9pm on Saturday, Dec. 3. Join festive crowds along the parade route along Main Street, running from 301/Washington Blvd to Gulfstream Ave. This year's parade honors the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor with a special salute to veterans and recognition of local WWII veterans.

Sarasota's neighbor to the north, Manatee County, is home to the eclectic Village of the Arts, Florida's largest mixed-used artist community. The Village celebrates its annual Village Christmas Artwalk Weekend Friday, Dec. 2 from 6:30pm-9pm and Saturday, Dec. 3 from 11am-4pm. Enjoy live caroling and holiday decor in the quirky, historic village as you browse the shops and local businesses.

Spreading holiday cheer by land and sea: the Venice Holiday Boat Parade takes place on Dec. 3 at 6pm (rain date: Dec. 4). The parade starts just north of Albee Road Bridge and continues along the intracoastal waterway, with public areas at the start and along the length of the parade route for spectators. The Venice Boat Parade may be viewed from both sides of the intracoastal (the Venetian Waterway Trail).  

A Holly-Jolly Guide to Yuletide Festivities

In downtown Lakewood Ranch, the annual Holidays Around the Ranch celebration takes place on Dec. 9 from 6pm-9pm. Santa Claus will enter the party in style, in a white horse-drawn carriage (the reindeer will be busy at the North Pole, 'warming up' for the big day), and the Dickens Carolers will set the tune for the tree lighting. Enjoy outdoor ice skating in Florida on an acrylic rink, sugar cookie decorating, street vendors, live music, and rides for kids in the holiday choo-choo train around the big tree.

The Girl Scouts of Gulfcoast Florida present the 8th annual Gingerbread Festival at the Westfield Sarasota Square Mall on Dec. 9-11. The event features a winter wonderland of more than 150 gingerbread houses crafted by local schools, businesses, youth groups, and nonprofit organizations. Take a break from holiday shopping to visit the gingerbread village and vote for your favorite before winners are announced on Dec. 11.

Dress up the pets in their finest reindeer duds and tackiest 'ugly holiday sweaters' for the downtown Sarasota Jingle Paws Jubilee, taking place at Five Points Park from 11am-5pm on Dec. 10. This benefit event for local rescue organizations will feature dogs, cats, puppies and kittens available for adoption, holiday gift shopping with local vendors, agility demonstrations, live music, a caricaturist, face painting, pet photos with Santa, a holiday pet costume contest and parade, and more.

The North Port Poinsettia Parade takes place on Dec. 10 at 5pm, from the corner of Appomattox Drive and North Port Blvd and traveling south to Greenwood Avenue. The theme for this year's parade is 'Storybook Holidays.'

The 31st annual Sarasota Holiday Boat Parade takes place at 6pm on Dec. 10. Arrive early at Sarasota's Bayfront Park to claim a viewing spot along the water for this popular local event, which draws a larger crowd every year. Other prime viewing areas include Centennial Park, City Island, and Marina Jack Restaurant.

Looking for a unique, handcrafted gift? Get your holiday shopping in at the Sarasota Municipal Auditorium for the Atomic Holiday Bazaar taking place Dec. 10-11. This indie arts and crafts show is among the most popular and most eclectic annual craft fairs on Florida's Gulf Coast, drawing vendors from across the state.

Who says it never snows in Florida? The annual Sarasota Snow Fest gives kids a chance to romp in the snow—even in 80-degree weather. This year's Snow Fest takes place December 16-18 at the Premier Sports Campus at Lakewood Ranch. Enjoy snow slides, snowman building, pony rides, pictures with Santa, and live shows like the Jelly Bean Jugglers and Candy Cane Hula Hoopers at this family-friendly festival.

The Sarasota Military Academy works every fall to sponsor wreaths for the Sarasota National Cemetery as part of the Wreaths Across America campaign. Sponsor a wreath and join SMA at the Sarasota National Cemetery on Dec. 17 for the National Wreaths Across America Day wreath-laying ceremony, beginning at 9:30am. SMA also invites volunteers to join them for wreath clean-up day on Jan. 14, 2017 at 7:15am.

Get a taste of local tradition: Every year on Christmas Day, Sarasota's Amish and Mennonite community, Pinecraft, hosts a Christmas parade starting at 2pm near the intersection of Bahia Vista St and Beneva Rd.

Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights takes place this year from Dec. 24, 2016 - Jan. 1, 2017. Celebrate the season with the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee at A Taste of Chanukah: New York Style on Dec. 26, 2016 from 4-6pm. The 6th annual music and food festival takes place at the Jewish Federation campus (580 McIntosh Rd) featuring NYC-inspired kosher bites, live entertainment, fun-filled carnival rides, and a 'Statue of Liberty' Menorah lighting.

No holiday season in Sarasota is complete without a circus-themed celebration of good cheer. Circus Arts Conservatory students, ages 8-18, star in the annual holiday big top extravaganza at the Sailor Circus Arena. The Sailor Circus Holiday Spectacular includes just eight shows this year, running Dec. 26-29—so get your tickets now.

Recurring Holiday Events in Sarasota

With all the holiday parties, festivals, and gatherings of family and friends—December has a way of keeping the social calendar packed. Seasonal celebrations are a month-long affair at several spots in Sarasota, so when you find a free moment, here are the places you're sure to find more cheer:

Holly Days and Mangrove Nights kick off at Historic Spanish Point on Dec. 1, with yuletide celebrations occurring throughout the month. On Thursday nights in December, visit Spanish Point for extended hours (until 8pm) to take in the sights of the historic grounds decked out for the season. Walk the pathways of mangroves and trees adorned with miniature white lights and enjoy live holiday music on these dates: Nov. 25, Dec. 1-2, 8-9, 15-16, 22-23, and 29-30.

Since the 1920s, John and Mable Ringling's Ca' d'Zan Mansion has been one of the most celebrated social gathering spots in Sarasota, known for its opulent parties. The winter holidays are no different, as the Ca' d'Zan decks the halls for the holidays with festive fireplace mantles, decorations, and a 10-foot Christmas tree in the grand Court. Visit the Ca' d'Zan for extended hours (5-8pm) during its Holiday Nights celebration taking place Dec. 1, 8, 15, 22, and 29.

Sarasota Jungle Gardens transforms into a twinkling tropical paradise during its annual Holiday Lights Spectacular. Visit with Santa Claus, roast marshmallows and s'mores over an open fire, and enjoy family-friendly entertainment and holiday fun from 6pm-9pm on select nights throughout December. Dates for Jungle Gardens' Holiday Lights Spectacular in 2016 are: Dec. 9, 10, 16, 17, 21-24, and 26-30.

The historic Powel Crosley Estate is known for its annual holiday events. In 2016, the Crosley Carols and Classics series includes performances of Charles Dickens' classic, A Christmas Carol, The Boy Who Laughed at Santa Claus by Ogden Nash, A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement C. Moore, and Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins & Other Holiday Treats. For a full list of showtimes for Crosley Carols and Classics, visit the Crosley Theatre online box office.

The annual Selby Gardens Lights in Bloom celebration takes place from 6pm-9pm every evening from Dec. 16-30. During Lights in Bloom, guests to the tropical botanical gardens become immersed in a magical holiday-lighted stroll through the gardens, featuring Santa and his elves, miniature garden trains, and nightly live entertainment, with food refreshments available for purchase.

On Dasher, on Dancer, On Prancer and Vixen: Holiday Running Events

One great thing about the holiday season in Sarasota is that it's rarely too cold for a run. Winter is the season for community running events. What better excuse to indulge in that extra Christmas cookie if you're planning on jogging it off, anyway?

Here's a list of holiday-themed runs and the links for event details and registration info:

Kick Off the New Year in Good Cheer

New Year's Eve at Selby Gardens is a sophisticated NYE tradition, featuring a private tour of of the Selby Gardens' holiday lights, a seated dinner, live entertainment, and fireworks display. Register for the event online.

Ring in 2017 with the annual Pineapple Drop in downtown Sarasota taking place on New Year's Eve at the intersection of Main St. and Lemon Ave. Starting at 3pm on Dec. 31, the annual block party features live music on four stages—so dancing in the streets is a guarantee—as well as food and beverage vendors.