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2023 Key West Bight Christmas by Carol Tedesco

Key West holidays | Best ways to celebrate December on the island

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.

12/01/2023

I’m taking a page from my dad’s December rule book: Starting on Dec. 1, which is his birthday, he declared the twelfth month his personal holiday. Sing off-key that earwig of a birthday song every day? Sure. Why not? Take a break from the grinding chaos of daily headlines? Of course. Imagine the world a better place? Most definitely.

Key West long ago turned December into one glorious celebration of, well, my dad’s birthday month. From the tree lighting at Bayview Park and the seaport right after Thanksgiving to various Duval Street wenches and shoes a-dropping on New Year’s Eve, December is a riotous collision of religions, charities, fundraisers, Santas in tutus, candlelight vigils, carols, Conch trains, houses aglow, dogs in tiaras, peppermint martinis (please, no), and one year I spotted a park ranger with an uncanny resemblance to Ranger Ed tossing a net over a dancing dinosaur on the beach.

Ah, the Key West holidays. We sure know how to do ’em up right. Here’s how I’m going to do December should you care to follow along.

Key West holidays

Key West holidays | Follow along with me?

First, we’ve got to turn down the cacophony of news headlines. If you’re a headline junkie, as I am, you’ll not be able to disconnect, but at least limit yourself to two daily doses: one in the morning to make sure the world’s still there, and one in the evening just in case you need to add something to your bedtime prayers. But, for all that’s holy, stay away from those tedious, incremental opinion pieces that do little but increase your craving for anti-anxiety meds.

Next, turn up the Christmas and holiday music. I don’t care if the reindeer have smushed Grandma a bazillion times, or if Frosty runs dripping through “O, Holy Night.” Secular, religious, country or acoustic. Won’t matter. Just crank those tunes up and dance through the aisles at Fausto’s. I choose my carol dancing locations carefully. Fausto’s customers are more likely to join in than those in Publix with its out-of-town visitors.

Grab the camp chair, stake out your curbside viewing spot along Truman and hoot-and-holler with the holiday parade. That’s coming up quick — 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 2 — so if you’re reading this after Dec. 2, you’re gonna have to wait until next year. What a delight this parade is. It’s like everyone in Key West gets into the act. Hanukkah dancers, a coupla Wiccans, Christian manger scenes complete with the sheep (sometimes for real), the usual suspects of political types, dancing, music, festive floats and buggies — and candy. I’m partial to those miniature Tootsie Pops. Of course Santa on a firetruck. But best of all, that ginormous street sweeper lights flashing, that brings up the rear of the parade, clearing away the debris. We cheer loudly for those guys.

See the lights. There are a dozen ways to do Key West holiday lights. Trains, trolleys, golf carts, feet, bikes and my personal preference, my trike all aglow with lights late at night when all is quiet with a full moon to light the way. Even though there are spectacular displays among Old Town homes, the seaport and Bayview Park, don’t miss New Town. Lands, those folks can put on a show. And for a perfect evening, get to the Custom House on Dec. 8, for the digital display that lights up the entire building.

Get thee to a church on Christmas Eve. I know, I know. You’ve fallen away. You’re not Christian. You’re a staunch believer in no such thing as organized religion, much less God. But, as one who has rarely missed a Christmas Eve candlelight and carols service, I promise you this: No one is going to proselytize you or make you sign in with your email. You don’t have to know the words or when to stand and sit down. Instead, sink into that pew or chair with a combination of relief and inexplicable peace that might, just might, stay with you for a bit. And if you hate it? These things rarely last more than an hour. You can stand it that long, I’m sure.

Ranger Ed and I will be at Peace Covenant Presbyterian, 2610 Flagler Ave., on Christmas Eve. And over my shoulder I’m going to imagine I hear my dad lustily singing his off-key version of “Silent Night.” Happy birthday, Daddy.

Featured image by Carol Tedesco. Holiday lighting of the Key West Seaport 2023.

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