During this time of year, many of us yearn for the comfort of home – the smell of grandmother’s cooking wafting through the kitchen and the feeling of relaxation when you plop into your grandfather’s favorite recliner (that one you are not allowed to sit in, but sometimes he looks the other way). These feelings, and so many more, surround us during the holidays. Even when we are away from family, or must rely on memories from years gone by, these feelings surround us during the holidays.
For some of us, these warm feelings of nostalgia and happy memories come flooding in during the holidays as we partake in the unique seasonal traditions of our communities.
In Manatee County, we celebrate the holidays with events or festivals to bring people together. In the past, these traditions, whether it be as an individual, family or community, held similar themes to our modern day celebrations.
The Village of Manatee enjoyed unique ways of celebrating the holidays. In 1875, they lifted the community spirits of Palmetto, Bradenton, Ellenton and Sarasota with a jousting tournament and coronation ball. The jousting tournament occurred at Braden Castle and would often be celebrated on December 26th.
At home during the 1800s, many of Manatee County’s early residents decorated their homes for the holidays. Unlike today, pioneers used natural and easily accessible items as decorations, such as palmetto fronds, pine cones, magnolia branches and dried fruit. Oranges were also a popular gift at the time.
As quoted from the diary of E.E. and E. B. Johnson, residents of Manatee County, “This Christmas we had a nice tree at the academy and the kind people solicited me to make a speech for them. ...We shipped a lot of oranges about the 15th of December to our friends up home and for the Sunday school. They pronounced them the finest they had ever seen.”
In the Village of Cortez, the 1912 Rural Graded Schoolhouse – now the Florida Maritime Museum – hosted community gatherings during the holiday season. Families and community members came together in the schoolhouse auditorium for holiday traditions, such as school plays acted out by students.
The schoolhouse also often held what was known as the “community Christmas tree.” This community celebration would attract everyone. Young ladies from the village prepared box suppers to “auction them off,” according to Toodle Green in The Finest Kind. Young men and boys bid on the suppers. The highest bidder won the supper and the company of the girl who made it.
The Florida Maritime Museum continues to celebrate the holiday season with Maritime by Candlelight every December near the museum's anniversary.
Author: Kristin Sweeting, Supervisor at FMM