Give the gift of shared experiences this holiday season

One of the best gifts you can offer yourself and a loved one is the gift of a shared experience, a present that can provide lifelong memories and can’t be re-gifted.
The gift of doing something with someone for pleasure over obligation can bring you closer to those you may not know as well as you’d like to, friends you only talk to online, aging relatives you keep postponing, or it might just bring new people into your life with whom you can share future holiday seasons.
Here are some ways to get into the holiday spirit that nurture a cultural connection, creativity and give business to locals in the community. Try one of the events below, dine at a local-owned restaurant, shop local, and make a day of it.
Step back in time at Victorian Christmas Stroll
Enjoy a holiday stroll to yesteryear, when gathering with loved ones, mulled wine and wreath-decorated gas-powered streetlights made the season bright. Several events and settings this season truly resemble an old-timey greeting card. In Tampa, no finer example of an old-fashioned Christmas can be found at the Henry B. Plant Museum’s 38th Annual Victorian Christmas Stroll.
A fun outing for kids and adults is the annual Victorian Christmas Stroll at Plant Museum at the University of Tampa.The annual exhibition transports guests back to the 1890s when the Tampa Bay Hotel (now the University of Tampa) rose to prominence as a Gilded Age resort, built by one of the most prominent magnates in railroad history.
Highlights include a grand 14-foot Christmas tree covered in lights, ribbons and shiny ornaments, a replica of a Plant System train, vintage fashions, antique toys, locally sourced items, and Victorian-style ornaments.
In addition to the eye candy, guests can enjoy live carols each evening from 6 to 8 p.m. Special events include Upstairs/Downstairs Live Theater at 2 p.m. Dec. 15 and Dec. 22. On Dec. 15, Children’s Day at the Stroll entertains little ones with Bits ‘N Pieces Puppet Theatre, crafts by The Paper Seahorse, The Tampa Metropolitan Youth Orchestra, storytime, and horse and carriage rides in Plant Park.
“The Victorian Christmas Stroll celebrates the warmth and spirit of an old fashioned holiday while encouraging a sense of community,” says museum representative Lindsay Huban. “Complimentary cider and cookies will be served on the veranda each day while holiday music floats through the air.”

Dunedin Old-Fashioned Christmas and Holiday Parade
Dunedin Parks & Recreation presents the Dunedin Old-Fashioned Christmas & Holiday Parade in the picturesque Main Street-like setting of downtown Dunedin on Dec. 14. Santa arrives at 4 p.m. and makes his way along Douglas Avenue. Stay downtown for horse-drawn carriage rides, train rides, a snow slide, kids crafts, old-fashioned games, s'mores, live entertainment from Late Night Brass, Soul Benders and others, and artificial snow flurries.
Add to the experience by lending a helping hand. According to Devyn Wilson Campbell, Recreation Leader at the Dunedin Community Center, the city is looking for youth and adult volunteers.
“Over 50 volunteers are needed to help with kids crafts and games, carriage rides, snow slide, and Santa helpers,” Campbell adds. Call 727-812-4530 or email [email protected] if you want to get involved.

Take a carriage ride down Main Street
Classic Reflections Carriages give rides through Brooksville.You can also enjoy carriage rides in the quaint quarter of Historic Downtown Brooksville. Classic Reflections Carriages once again bring horse-drawn rides to the historical setting.
“Whether you live close by, plan to travel or stay at one of our bed and breakfasts, the Christmas season at Brooksville’s Main Street is sure to be the most magical and memorable to date,” says Tina Maria, the district association’s events and marketing Coordinator. “Make plans to shop, dine, and take in the sights and sounds. Embrace our very own Hallmark Christmas town.”
Take carriage rides in Brooksville on Dec. 12, 19, and 20 at 6 p.m. Prices range from $5 to $10, depending on carriage size.
Support local retailers and creatives
In Downtown Clearwater, you can attend the Holiday Pop-Up Market at Second Century Studios, Wednesdays through Sundays. The Globe Garden, an urban play installation, can be enjoyed outside the pop-up market.
“Throughout the month, Downtown Clearwater will offer a unique holiday experience, including specialty shops for holiday shopping, celebrations, tree lighting ceremony, concerts and performances, holiday movies and visits from Santa Claus,” says Rosemary D’Amour of the Clearwater Redevelopment Association.
On Dec. 14, the city’s Holiday Movie Night will entertain families for free in Station Square Park with a showing of Elf. That same night, the Clearwater Arts Alliance's Inaugural Art Walk will feature murals, sculptures and more throughout downtown Clearwater. On Dec. 21, Holiday Movie Night returns with The Grinch and a performance by the James Suggs Jazz Quartet.

In downtown Tampa, you can take the kids ice skating at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and shop at The Shops of Winter Village, which feature 10 boutiques from local makers and retailers. Each Winter Village Shop is held in a PODS container in a market-style layout.

In St. Petersburg, visit the sixth annual A Very Merry Market on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 4-8 p.m., a free shopping event showcasing local makers and independent businesses. The event at Great Explorations Museum in St. Petersburg features items for sale by Made in St. Pete Florida, Ashe Couture Boutique, Sunshine Canning, Pinellas Chocolate Company and several other Tampa Bay entrepreneurs.

Or check out Tampa’s Sweetwater Organic Farm, a community garden with annual memberships, educational opportunities, yoga and special events throughout the year. Their 17th Annual Planter’s Ball celebrates the season Dec. 14, 5-8 p.m., with wine, dance and relaxation under the stars. Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options are available. No admission fee for kids 12 and younger, and family-friendly activities can be enjoyed from 5 to 6 p.m. Live music with the Hurricane Eyes Band. Dinner begins at 6 p.m. Beer, wine, and coffee are available by donation. Tickets are available online and cost $20; or at the door $25.
Detox from stress and meet local entrepreneurs in downtown Clearwater on Thursday, Dec. 12. A Wellness Day offers all that’s beneficial for mind, body, and spirit at The Ring, Clearwater's newest coworking space.

Second Century Studios will host arts and crafting events throughout the month, including holiday ornament painting, wreath-making, drawing classes, and photography seminars through Dec. 22.
The Guerrilla Art Market, an open-air music, art, and event venue in St. Petersburg’s Warehouse Arts District, offers original art pieces by well-known and emerging locals. The monthly bazaar at 2133 Second Ave. S. celebrates with a year-end bash on Saturday, Dec. 14, from 5 to 10 p.m.
“The market presents works in all media by the freshest emerging artists in the Tampa Bay Area … many artists whose creations can be seen around town on the walls and streets of St. Pete,” says Curator PT Collins.
Clearwater-based artist Heather Rippert will open her doors for an Open Studio and Holiday Sale on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 5-9 p.m.
So many things to do, so little time

The duo Alien House performs at Tempus Project's decade anniversary celebration on Dec. 14.Tempus Projects, one of the area’s premier spaces for “impactful, experimental” contemporary art and a Seminole Heights staple, commemorates 10 years of pushing the aesthetic envelope at X: A Decade of Tempus Projects.
Tempus’s fete brings us performances by acclaimed multimedia artist Kalup Linzy and Alien House, a Tampa-based experimental/electronica duo (Justin Myers and Anthony Tarallo). DJ Brian Oblivion spins at 6 pm., and David Jenkins, Jobsite Theater’s co-founder producing artistic director, presides as emcee.
Additional experiences to share, including holiday markets, festivals, and boat parades too numerous to list here, are in the works throughout the Tampa Bay Area. Take a look at these websites to find more info: Tampa Riverwalk, Visit Tampa Bay, Realize Bradenton, Visit Sarasota, Visit Central Florida, Florida Holiday Boat ParadesVisit St. Pete / Clearwater.

And, finally, FINALLY, kiss the teens goodbye and ring in the New Year while checking out the latest exhibitions of one of the area’s major museums: The Museum of Fine Arts Flights of Fancy on Dec. 31.
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Read more articles by Julie Garisto.

A graduate of Largo High, USF, and the University of Tampa's Creative Writing MFA program, Julie Garisto grew up in Clearwater and now has a home in the Ocala National Forest. Between writing assignments, she's teaching English courses at Saint Leo University and other colleges. Julie has written arts features in Creative Pinellas' online magazine ArtsCoast Journal, Creative Loafing, Florida travel pieces  (Visit Tampa Bay and Visit Jacksonville), the Cade Museum, and features and reviews in the Tampa Bay Times. Her previous journalistic roles include arts and entertainment editor for Creative Loafing, staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and copy editor for the Weekly Planet. Lately, she's been obsessed with exploring Florida's State Parks, small towns, and natural springs.