It hasn't seemed much like Christmas this year, perhaps because the Central Florida temperatures remained relentlessly tropical – er, hot – well into December.
Fortunately, there's a sure-fire spot to find the holiday spirit at Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales (boktowergardens.org), where the season is celebrated with songs, festive decorations and an assortment of themed activities. The hills are alive with the sound of Christmas.
That was the case on my recent visit, a gloriously sunny afternoon with pleasant temperatures and an occasional breeze beneath a sky so blue that it almost hurt your eyes to look at it. I arrived in time for the first of two live carillon concerts that unfold Thursdays-Sundays from atop the 205-foot tower that is the centerpiece of the gardens.
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- Bok Tower
1151 Tower Boulevard, Lake Wales, FL 33853, USA
Carillonneur Geert D'hollander, a winner of 30 international competitions, banged out carols that represented Flemish, Bohemian, German and English traditions on 60 bronze bells that weigh more than 63 tons. The program changes daily and features everything from Gershwin ("Rhapsody in Blue" highlights) to holiday standards by American songwriter Johnny Marks ("Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer") to nostalgic material from the 1930s-1950s ("Home for the Holidays').
Visitors can watch the carillonneur at work on a video screen in the gardens and ask questions at post-performance meet-and-greet sessions at the base of the tower. With apologies to budding guitar heroes, I'd recommend considering a carillonneur career, because the guy was greeted like a rock star by the women I observed on my visit.
Bok Tower offers more seasonal cheer at festively decorated Pinewood Estate, the 20-room Mediterranean-style mansion built in the early 1930s. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it's considered one of the finest examples of Mediterranean-style architecture in Florida.
Through Jan. 5, the Estate tour showcases the creative holiday decor of interior designers and Bok Tower volunteers, handiwork that ranges from traditional candles and wreaths to whimsically inventive themes such as a bedroom adorned in peacock feathered accessories.
Visitors can vote for a favorite room at the tour's end, and kids can look for that elusive elf on the shelf.
You might find your holiday spirit, too.