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Key West Christmas

It’s going to be a cold one: Five ways to weather a Key West Christmas

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.


Between shuttling among a bazillion Key West Christmas outings and scurrying about to beat lines at UPS and the post office, I’ve kept an eye on the weekend weather. Not promising.

Well, not promising if one’s not partial to wind, rain and chilly. Come Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we’re dropping to 55 with highs of maybe 65. In Key West that calls for freaking fleece, long pants jackets, mittens and a hat. It might, for a few less hardy, require socks with the flip flops.

For sure it means the chances for my annual “stop by and say hello” Key West Christmas picnic at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park are diminishing rapidly. Early this week I was texting friends to be thinking Plan B. Plan B is “we’re still doing this thing unless it’s pouring down rain. Just wear more clothes and bring a blanket.”

By mid-week I was casting about for Plan C, because, well, because it looks like Sunday is likely to be a wind-rain-cold washout. I’m still not going to make a decision until the last minute.

Right now on Christmas Eve, things looks quite promising. The sun is out, the temps are around 59 and the winds are manageable. If it’ll hold another 24 hours, heck, I might decide Fort Zach is a go. Alas, I may be wishing for naught.

I suspect you’re in a similar jam. House guests. Family. Friends in town for the weekend. What the heck do you do for a blustery Christmas Day? My usual go-tos won’t apply because lots of places close on Christmas Day (and early Christmas Eve.)

For instance, my “almost free” list includes the self-guided walking tour at the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden. It’s closed Christmas Day. My “do with kids” list includes the splash pad at Truman Waterfront Park. That’s out because, really, not even Minneapolis kids would think it’s fun in 60 degree temps and rain. OK, so maybe they would; but not the adults who have to get them there.

Key West Christmas
Fort Zach on Christmas Day 2021. Ranger Ed caught a dinosaur.

What to do on a yucky Key West Christmas

Here’s what could be on a really yucky weather combined with Christmas list:

  • Do it like a retail tourist: This is just sad. I hope it’s not your only option but for visitors it probably is. Key West is a tourist town and local businesses count on cash registers to keep the doors open so they may keep the doors open on Christmas Day. Think restaurants, stores along Duval Street, the Conch Train, a snorkel trip (though I’d think this ranks up there with the splash pad.) Think of it this way: If you’re paying, it might be open. Except. For heaven’s sake, call ahead to confirm. As sure as you’re thinking you could go ’round to Fausto’s or Publix, you’ll find them closed so their employees can be with families.
  • Do it at home: This one’s do-able if you live here. Move the outdoor celebration indoors. That’s likely what I’ll do with the Fort Zach thing. Tell folks to bring their chairs and picnic potluck stuff to my porch and we’ll make do. Oh, and bring an extra blanket or two because the house isn’t big enough. Not to mention I haven’t cleaned.
  • Do it outdoors: I’ve got a friend who says God made babies waterproof the day she was born; she doesn’t melt in the rain. One of my traditions is a long walk on Christmas Day. No need to let the weather deter you. Take that walk or bike ride before dawn or after sunset and love the Christmas lights around the island. And, sure, go ahead and take the car.
  • Get out the blustery weather recipes: I’ve been thinking Christmas Day ought to include some chili and cornbread; perhaps a vegetable soup and toasty Cuban cheese bread. I know a lot of folks cook on Christmas Day, what with families visiting and all. There’s ham and turkey and assorted traditional side dishes. Sorta like Thanksgiving but in red-and-green. Well, chili is red and I’ll toss some cilantro on top for color. And, in my house, blustery or not, Christmas Day will include a Queen of all Puddings. That dessert goes as well on the porch as it does under the Australian pines at Fort Zach.
  • Go on ahead to the beach picnic: I’ve not given up hope. If it’s not raining Christmas Day, the beach it will be. An extra layer or two; a hat; socks with the flip flops, chili and cornbread, a red Solo cup, a chair and an ocean gray and stormy. A book; always a book. Perhaps a hardy friend or two to share an occasional desultory conversation. Sounds good, huh?

Merry Christmas, my friends. May you find peace and joy — even if it rains.


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