Balmy December days in Sarasota may not trigger childhood holiday memories for all of us, but rest assure Sarasotans have a long and proud tradition of holiday celebration stemming from the earliest settlers here in the Gulf Coast.

The period of time was the early 19th century. Lavish Christmas gifts didn’t exist and most gifts given to one another were handmade using materials that were inexpensive and readily available. In Joan Berry Dickenman’s book “The Homesteaders, Early Settlers of Nokomis and Laurel,” Mrs. Walter D. Blackburn recounts that apples and candy were favored gifts. She also remembers that gingerbread “boys and girls” were hung from the branches of a cedar tree along with bits of colored ribbon fashioned into pretty little bows with other handmade ornaments for decoration.

Twas the Knight Before Christmas…..

In the village of Manatee, during the 19th century, there was a  celebrated medieval tradition for the day after Christmas.

Jousting — or at least tilting for rings with lances on horseback.

In the book “The Lures of Manatee,” Lille B. McDuffee described the pageantry: “Mounted on their steeds came the galloping knights hailed by wild shouts of joy from the waiting crowd. Their costumes were conspicuously lavish with tinsel trimmings and about their necks they wore gayly-colored handkerchiefs while a flashy scarf adorned each masculine waist.”

The winning knight got to crown a “Queen of Love and Beauty.” Runners-up named their “Maids of Honor.” There was often a ball at the Braden Castle. There were similar tournaments in Tampa and other Florida towns. Manatee made it part of a Christmas tradition that continues today.

Fast forward to 1925, Sarasota’s Christmas Eve program was held at the Mira Mar Park. Presents were distributed to all pupils of public school attending the first six classes and Christmas carols were sung by the Community Carolers Club with selections by the Sarasota Ukulele Club. Christmas Day brought John Ringling to the streets of Sarasota starring as Santa Claus in the Christmas Day Parade.

The Sarasota Herald reported in its 1925 Christmas Day edition that the parade would also debut the internationally famous Czecho-Slovakian National Band. In a follow-up story titled “Real Yuletide Spirit Permeates City of Sarasota,” the Sarasota Herald reported that “What is believed to be one of the largest crowds ever congregated for any public event in Sarasota gathered in Mira Mar Park to hear the initial concert given by the internationally known Czecho-Slovakian National Band.’

Sarasota County got Floridaland as a gift for Christmas in 1964. The $1,500,000 tourist attraction had 5,000 visitors on Christmas, its opening day. According to the Fort Lauderdale Daily News, opening ceremonies were christened with the cooperation of a billy goat that gave birth to twins. The News also reported that Floridaland had the distinction of being the first year-round tourist attraction in South Sarasota County.

Floridaland occupied 50 acres along Sarasota Bay just south of Blackburn Point Road. It never became a great success, even after a 100-room hotel opened at the site. The park finally closed in 1971 — the same year Disney World opened near Orlando.

Whether you’re nestled comfortably up north around a fireplace with freezing temperatures, or playing a game of pickleball on a Sunny Sarasota court, Christmas is a joyful time of year to be with friends and family. Happy Chanukah and Merry Christmas to all from your friends at Sarasota Events Calendar!