Travel and Leisure — December 2, 2014 at 5:00 am

A South Florida Holiday

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©istockphoto/mwilson_93

©istockphoto/mwilson_93

For many, this time of year is full of rustling golden leaves, scarves hanging on coat racks, and wood burning fires crackling at the edge of an immaculately set table. The holiday season in South Florida is vastly different. A tropical ambiance sets the scene for season paraded in colors, warm, bright days, and a different take on a family get-together.

A South Florida holiday season is a blend of old and new world charm. Accented by an international spin on traditional holiday dishes, partygoers congregate under warm ocean breezes and lights hanging from the branches of bright green palm trees. While the traditional vision of the holiday season are of red and green decorations, ice glazed roads, and snowmen gleefully welcoming guests over a sea of white, South Florida shimmers with bright pinks, blues, and yellows, sun-kissed gardens, and wafts of sea air and sun-block.

As the sunset streams across the water, through the leaves of banyan and mango trees, a cast iron fire pit illuminates wooden chaise lounges, the grains still warm from baking in the 80-degree air. Along the patio deck, intricately decorated mahogany tables, steeped in island charm are decorated with colorful flowers; their vases surrounded by the flames of small candles, casting golden light that dance across the tabletop.

Flavor defines the South Florida holiday. Tropical fruits, not found in the north until spring, thrive in the year-round sunshine. Sweet mandarin oranges, tart key limes, tangy pineapples, and sugary mangoes, create a cornucopia of Caribbean and South American flavor. Cultures mingle as the traditional holiday turkey joins fried plantains, pulled pork, and jerk spices in an eclectic blend of cuisines.

The high point of the holiday season is the festival known as nochebuena, celebrated on Christmas Eve. Friends and family celebrate with drinking, dancing, dominoes, and ultimately, a full roasted pig that’s placed in a metal box and cooked over smoldering coals. The unveiling of the finished pig elicits cheers and knives, with every morsel divided among the guests. To cap the evening, toasts are raised, as rum, wine, and cervezas flow freely, adding color to the already energetic celebrations.

There are the Floridians who imagine chilled air, pine needle-lined sidewalks, flurries of snow, and traditional holiday scenes, typically after the extended summer. As the lights dangle from the overhanging branches of the palms, and the tables are decorated with bright flowers and tropical fruits, South Florida celebrates the holidays in its own unique fashion. In a place so celebrated for its international diversity, tradition is all but thrown out the window, as cultures put their own spin on a celebration of friends, family, and joyfulness.

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