"The sun is shining, the grass is green, the orange and palm trees sway." We may seldom hear those introductory lines to Irving Berlin's holiday anthem "White Christmas," but that's how the song begins.
The scene supposedly is California—in "Beverly Hills, L.A."—but you can bet all the hills in Beverly that Californians never say "Up North."
They say "back East," by which they mean most of the continental United States beginning in Colorado.
Florida is where we say "Up North"—as on those "I don't care how you do it Up North" bumper stickers¬¬—and Christmas is the time of year when, historically, our smarty-pants tendency to gloat about our winter weather has reached its peak.
Just check out some of the vintage postcards in the Florida State Archives' photo collection at Florida Memory.com. You can search thousands of images online, and also watch video footage. This year, Gov. Haydon Burns' 1965 Christmas message to Floridians is featured.
Searching for "snow" plus "postcard" in the photo collection, I turned up a 1920s card showing Floridians merrily picking oranges while their Northern counterparts throw snowballs. Another card contrasts pictures of an automobile lumbering through snow with one sailing along through fragrant Florida orange groves.
That last card bears the message "To Jeer and Gloat May Not Be Nice, I'll Take the Sun—You Take Take the Ice." Sounds like a dressed-up version of "Nanny Nanny boo-boo" to me.
At home in the lush life
It's true, however, that a warm Christmas rather than a white one can be a shock to Florida transplants.
The great writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings would come to love rural Florida, but her first holiday season at Cross Creek in 1928 made her mad.
Later she reflected that "it was unreasonable to be outraged by a temperature of 75 degrees, hot blazing sunshine and red birds singing lustily instead of Christmas carolers. . . . I had moved to the subtropics, and the lush life had become my life."
Eventually, Rawlings wrote that she came to "love the lazy and casual Florida backwoods Christmas."
"Now that Cross Creek is 'home,' " she wrote, "I should be as infuriated as on that first Christmas day, if snow fell, and sparrows pecked at ice."
Bear meat and orange wine
Along with the lazy and casual celebrations, Orlandoans have long shown an ability to party on Christmas.
Martha Tyler, daughter of pioneer Aaron Jernigan, reported that important meals in the 1850s included "bear and deer meat with sweet potatoes, homemade cheese, corn bread and plenty of syrup made from the sugar cane."
Occasionally, the behavior of the celebrants was wilder than the game on which they dined.
During one early Orlando Christmas season, rowdy cowboys showed up in town late one night and rode their horses into both bars in town, tossing back their drinks without dismounting, the story goes.
In 1876, the journalist and citrus grower Will Wallace Harney described a Pine Castle holiday in his column for a Cincinnati newspaper.
"The cheer of Christmas under the palms is as warm as under the holly," Harney wrote, and had inspired a Martha Washington party on Christmas night.
"The room was full of quaint costumes of that brilliant old age of toupee and powder, when damsels walked the stately minuet, and cavaliers in court dress mastered the difficult art of not stumbling over their own rapiers," Harney wrote.
Perhaps the dancing was enlivened by a bit of the homemade orange wine Harney said was a popular holiday gift in post-Civil War Florida.
No Ohio-style apple toddies for Central Florida merry-makers, he wrote in 1871: "Instead, there is an orange punch about which Hebe [the goddess of youth] and the nectarine gods had better inquire."
Whatever the weather, warm and orangey Florida holiday wishes to you.
Joy Wallace Dickinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by good old-fashioned letter at the Sentinel, 633 N. Orange Ave., Orlando, FL 32801.