Averaging between 50 and 60 feet in height, the Jacksonville Landing Christmas tree, on the river Downtown, is the city's tallest and "official" Christmas tree. Elsewhere in the city. however, are three other landmark trees worth noting. The tree at Atlantic Beach-Neptune Beach Town Center is framed by year-round palm trees and situated just a few steps from the sand. The tree in historic San Marco Square is located inside an old-fashiond bandstand in the heart of the square. Meanwhile, the newest addition to the city's Christmas tree family is the one on the green at the center of St. Johns Town Center. A certain times the lights on this tree will blink in choreography with background Christmas music. Be sure to look for all four if you're here in December!
During select nights of the Christmas season the Jacksonville Zoo is open and illuminated by millions of twinkling lights. You can wander through the zoo and enjoy the Winter Wonderland of lights. This popular event does have an admission charge.
For about a week in December an 8,000 square foot city comes alive at night in the woods behind Ponte Vedra Presbyterian Church. Here, visitors stroll down the streets of Bethlehem, with artisans and shopkeepers selling their wares, soldiers keeping order, actual livestock (roaming in a controlled petting zoo arrangement) and, yes, even beggars to add authenticity. Of course, in the midst of this ancient town you will find the manger with Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
The event has swelled in size and popularity since its humble beginnings 13 years ago. Today, the event is so huge that cars are first directed from Palm Valley Road to a well-lit, huge, open field. Here you leave your car and board one of many continuously circulating shuttle buses that take you to the church. After a brief presentation you are directed down a path lined with luminaries that takes you into the woods and to Bethlehem village. After exploring the town be sure to pick up a cup of complimentary hot cocoa before leaving.
Elaborate as this event may be, it is actually free (of course, donations are accepted and, might I add, well deserved). You can make a donation by purchasing something from one of the shopkeepers or simply by giving it to one of the roaming beggars.
This is a unique holiday event that will certainly leave a lasting impression!
While not as tall or celebrated as Jacksonville's official Christmas tree at the Landing, the tree at Beach Town Center has a unique feel of its own. Surrounded by towering palm trees instead of skyscrapers and backed by the beach instead of the river, the Town Center tree stands as a more relaxed and modest sentinal of the season. The tree and other decorations that illuminate Beach Town Center exude the very friendly village-style Christmas charm of yesteryear. The only difference is that people here go surfing instead of ice skating.
Each year the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend is reserved for the first lighting of Jacksonville's official Christmas tree. You''ll find it rising 60 feet from the center court of the Jacksonville Landing along the river. The first official lighting is accompanied by live holiday music and fireworks.
On the very next night the glow of the tree is also accompanied by the creative twinkling decorations of numerous watercraft as the annual Jacksonville Light Parade brings thousands of spectators back out to both Riverwalks. More fireworks are launched at the conclusion of the parade.
If you are visiting Jacksonville during the holiday season be sure to check out the windows of the large Kuhn Flowers store on Beach Blvd. Every year the store decorates its large, two-story tall windows with a variety of Christmas scenes including a nativity, carolers, tin soldiers, Christmas trees, and their central attraction -- Santa's Workshop featuring an animatronic Santa, Mrs. Claus and Rudolph that sing holiday songs. The windows are also accented with numerous lights, toys and flowers. Admiring the displays has become a very popular holiday tradition for many local families. It's a holiday must see!