For those who regret that roadside attractions went out of fashion in the mid-1950s, the community of Christmas, Florida, is a gift. Although it’s only about 40 miles east of Disney World and about 16 miles west of I-95 at the Titusville exit, it’s a step back in time.
Home to barely over 1,300 residents, according to the 2020 census, Christmas is small-town America with barely any stores and only a few public buildings including a post office.
Today, the community’s major year-round attraction is the Orlando Wetlands Park. A spectacular use of water management land, the park is filled with easily accessible wildlife. For a more detailed look at this park, Florida Rambler provides “Orlando Wetlands Park: Perfect stop for wildlife lovers.”
For those who are passing through the area around the December holidays or any time of year, for that matter, we offer a half dozen reasons to stop and look around Christmas, Florida.
The history of Christmas, Florida, the town
As settlers came to this area of Florida in the 1820s and 30s, they found a Seminole population already living here and called for them to be resettled west of the Mississippi. Some of the native Americans refused to give up their land resulting in the Second Seminole War that lasted in the state from 1835 to 1842.
For protection and to hold supplies for troops moving south along the St. Johns River, 200 forts were built including one in what today is Christmas.
The construction of Fort Christmas began on Christmas Day in 1837 when U.S. Army soldiers and Alabama Volunteers arrived in the area. They finished building it in a little over a week.
A fixed garrison of two companies was maintained at the location until the fort was abandoned in January, 1838, because it was no longer needed as a supply depot.
Today, Christmas is an unincorporated area in Orange County that takes its name from the fort.
Fast fact: Christmas, Florida, is one of the many settings in John Green’s novel Paper Towns (2008). In the book, three Orlando high school students embark on a journey to find their friend, who has recently gone missing. An old abandoned mini-mall in Christmas is one of the places where they search for her and find clues vital to her case. (Source Wikipedia)
Seven things to celebrate in Christmas, Florida
1. Christmas spirit year round
As you drive around town, you’ll get in the holiday spirit just by reading the street names. Look for Rudolph Street, Dasher Street and Blitzen Avenue.
Elsewhere, you may discover Antler Street, Bethlehem Street, Jingle Road, Hobby Horse Lane and Reindeer Road, to name a few. It won’t take much to find others.
As you drive these streets, you’ll see that some homeowners never take down their Christmas decorations. Don’t you wish you lived in Christmas to get out of that post-season chore?
Keep exploring and you’ll find a decorated Christmas tree of sorts and a creche on the southwest corner of East Colonial Drive and Fort Christmas Road.
2. Post office perks in Christmas, Florida
From Dec. 1 through Christmas Eve, the post office really ramps up its holiday spirit.
Drop off mail at other times of year and it will be sent to Orlando where it will be postmarked from Orlando.
But during the holidays, the mail you drop off here will be sent to Orlando and postmarked “Christmas, FL.”
With over 1,000 cards and packages arriving daily, the local post office no longer has the capacity to stamp the mail.
If you can’t make it to Christmas to get the postmark, you can box and mail your stamped and addressed cards to this post office. They’ll do the rest of the work for you.
Before dropping off your holiday missives, you also can get in line to make your mail look even more festive by decorating the envelopes and packaging with holiday rubber stamps supplied by the post office.
For the kids, there’s a special mailbox in the lobby for their letters to Santa. These are sent to Orlando where they are actually answered by the jolly big guy himself (wink, wink).
Rambler Note: We want to thank Collin who works at the Christmas post office for this holiday information.
- Where: U.S. Post Office; 23580 E. Colonial Dr., Christmas, FL 32709
- When: Get your cards postmarked from Christmas, Florida, Dec 1. through Dec 24.
- More Information: 407-568-2941
3. Step back in time
Don’t miss the Fort Christmas Historical Park that I just happened upon driving to the nearby Orlando Wetlands Park.
This outdoor museum, run by the county, features a full-sized replica of Fort Christmas. It was finished in December, 1977, almost exactly 140 years after the original fort came into service.
The original, which no longer exists, was located about a mile away along the St. Johns River. But historic records made it possible to recreate the fort.
The park also holds a variety of historic buildings moved to this 25-acre property from elsewhere in town. A map shows where the buildings were originally located.
You can wander through them at your own speed to discover what life was like for those living in Christmas, Florida, from the 1870s to the 1950s. Each structure is furnished with pieces appropriate to its period.
Besides homes, you can see a school and post office plus artifacts from the area’s early industries including grinding and pressing sugar cane and making turpentine from pine sap.
Being a child of the 1950s, my favorite buildings were the Partin Home and Barn.
Emma and Dixie Partin built their first home of cypress logs and planted a large citrus grove in the area. Forty years later, in 1953, they built the house with indoor plumbing and electricity that is now part of the museum.
The nearby barn was built from hand-hewn cypress poles the couple salvaged from their first home. Today it houses a display of vintage farm equipment.
- Where: Fort Christmas Historical Park, 1300 N. Fort Christmas Road
- When: Open summer 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and winter 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, of course.
- Admission: Free
- More Info: 407-568-4149
Rambler tips: During the school year at the Fort Christmas Historical Park, groups of children enjoy the museum as their teachers lead the way. That makes mornings busy so you may want to ramble through the buildings later in the day.
You won’t find a restaurant in Christmas but there are shaded picnic areas on the museum property if you wish to bring food.
4. Swampy and his jungle adventure
Built in the 1980s by Hermon Brooks, Swampy welcomes you to the parking lot of Jungle Adventures. At a little over 200 feet long, the alligator-shaped building is home to the ticket counter, gift shop and offices of this roadside zoo.
Brooks was in his sixties when he built the animal park that included a commercial alligator farm.
It was originally called Gator Jungle. But today it’s described as a “Real Florida Jungle” featuring a Native American Village, a boat ride through the jungle on the Green Gator River and guided tours with animal encounters. It’s a good bet you’ll see alligators.
Where: Jungle Adventures and Swampy, 26206 E. Colonial Road 26205 East
When: Daily 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Admission: Adults, $25.95; seniors 60 and over, $22.95; children 3 to 11, $17.95; children under 3, free sales tax not included. Book online and save.
More Info: 407-568-2885
5. William Beardall Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area
Covering over 30,500 acres on the banks of the north-flowing St. Johns River, the Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area has attracted humans for the last 6,000 years.
Today, visitors come to enjoy 60 miles of trails as well as fishing plus the area is listed as part of The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.
You’ll see song birds, migratory waterfowl and wading birds. Keep your eyes open and you may also see bald eagles, owls, bobcats, white-tailed deer and gray fox.
While at the park, you are welcome to bike, hike, horseback ride and tent camp (by permit only). You also may hunt but check the regulations summary brochure and hunt calendar before you visit
- Where: Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area, Taylor Creek Road
- When: Daily, 6 a.m. to sunset
- Admission: The Daily-Use Permit is $3 per person with those under 16 or over 65, free. Pay at the area’s entrance fee kiosk by placing cash or check (no credit cards) in the envelope provided and depositing it in the fee station. Display the hang-tag on your vehicle or carry it if you are hiking, biking or horseback riding.
- More Information: 407-568-5893
6. Discover story of Seabiscuit’s sculptor
It’s not particularly inviting but the Christmas Cemetery, visible from North Fort Christmas Road, is the final resting place of famed western sculptor James Hughlette “Tex” Wheeler.
According to the Seabiscuit Heritage Foundation, he cast two bronze statues from Seabiscuit in 1940-41 while the horseracing legend was still alive.
About a decade ago, the Howard family who owned the horse, donated one of the sculptures to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New York.
In February, 1941, Seabiscuit himself helped unveil the second statue at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif., where it remains in the garden paddock area.
7. Seminole Ranch Wildlife Management Area
This water management area covers about 6,000 acres. Here you can discover open pastures where you may see cattle grazing, birds wading in the river marsh and small animals taking haven in the hardwood and cabbage palm hammocks.
The area is part of the almost 30,000-acre Seminole Ranch Conservation Area. And the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail as well as over four miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail can be found here.
You are welcome to fish, horseback ride, hike, bike, paddle and picnic. And if you need a place to stay overnight, there’s primitive camping at designated sights with permit.
Hunters also prize the area’s white-tailed deer, turkey and small game. However, going after them you must follow all pertinent laws and regulations.
- Where: Seminole Ranch Conservation Area, 52155 Wheeler Road
- Hours: Open 24 hours a day.
- More Information: 386-329-4404
Map courtesy St. Johns River Water Management District.
Where to eat and stay
There are no overnight accommodations in Christmas except for the Christmas RV Park. Your RV should have cooking facilities since there are no restaurants in town.
However, there are plenty of chain motels and restaurants at the Titusville exit off of I-95. And, of course, Disney World always beckons.
More ideas from Florida Rambler
The best reason to visit Christmas, Florida, is to enjoy the wildlife at Orlando Wetlands Park.
Some great hiking trails are found at the Little Big Econ State Forest. This is about 20 minutes north of the Orlando Wetlands Park.
Also a half hour away is excellent kayaking on the Econlockhatchee River.
About 50 minutes away is a community where we’ve enjoyed a weekend, charming historic town, Winter Park.
Notes from the editor:
The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning visits.
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Deborah Hartz-Seeley is a Master Gardener whose yard is certified as Florida Friendly. With a master’s degree in agricultural journalism, she’s written for the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald, The Coastal Star, Cook’s Magazine, Florida Food & Farm and Florida Design. If she’s not out back growing things, you’ll find her wandering a garden path or exploring nature on foot, on a bike or in a kayak.