Jetting out of the frigid Midwest to celebrate Christmas surrounded by palm trees may cause cognitive dissonance, but what Floridians lack in snow, they make up for in holiday spirit. The best three (free) festive Florida events on the small barrier islands of Sanibel and Captiva are the Christmas tree lighting, the Captiva Golf Cart Parade and Sanibel’s luminary.

1. Sanibel Christmas Tree Lighting

Rather than staying up early to get smooshed by a herd of rampant, bargain-crazed shoppers on “Black Friday,” celebrate the official beginning of Christmas season at ‘Tween Waters Island Inn. Work off your Thanksgiving turkey meal by belting out Christmas carols with hundreds of others as the grounds are lit up throughout the night. The evening concludes with the lighting of the giant Christmas tree and a fireworks display.

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2. Captiva Golf Cart Parade

Next, get revved up for the holiday season on Captiva’s minuscule main drag. The golf cart parade features entries from the islands’ small businesses and social organizations. Past years have seen gingerbread houses, giant nutcrackers, the Grinch (as a driver) and fake soap snow jetting off of the cart. Last year, a newlywed couple from Wisconsin even joined in the fun. If you’d like, you can even rent out a mini-vehicle of your own to decorate.

3. Sanibel Luminary

Finally, having darted the crowds on Black Friday, jump on a trolley to shop (or window shop) in Sanibel’s cute, local stores. Candles in white paper bags illuminate the bike path, making for a lovely evening stroll. Nibble on sweet treats and indulge in wine, beer and cocktails as you browse through Sanibel’s handmade crafts and listen to live music at various stops around the island. Soak up the festive spirit in preparation for Christmas.

Good cheer is abundant on Sanibel and Captiva. Visit festive Florida to experience the holidays in a different way! Even if you miss out on Florida, you may find that Southern Christmas traditions, in general, quite different from snowy season celebrations in the north.