By DEBBIE FLESSNER
The concept of celebrating Christmas during one of the hottest months on the Suncoast has only been happening in Venice for the past 11 years, but it was originally invented at the Keystone Camp, a Brevard, North Carolina girls’ camp, back in 1933.
Needless to say, the midsummer celebration caught on around the country as a way to put the summer doldrums out of mind and replace it with some holiday cheer. Certainly since a group of Downtown Venice businesspeople started up the event locally more than a decade ago, it’s become one of Venice MainStreet’s most well-attended festivals.
Nick Sperry, Venice MainStreet’s event coordinator, said that this year’s celebration will be held Friday, July 19 and Saturday, July 20.
“Christmas in July was originally created as a big shopping idea for the off-season,” he said. “It’s a great way to get people Downtown and active during a slow time of the year.”
Just like during the traditional Christmas season, the Venice shops will be having holiday sales, as well as offering entry forms for a chance to win one of several gift baskets totaling as much as $1,000. The baskets will contain gifts and certificates donated by various downtown merchants.
On both Friday and Saturday, shoppers can ride the free Christmas Trolley, which will wind past the shops on Venice, Tampa and Miami Avenues Downtown. Santa and Mrs. Claus will be riding the trolley between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. on those days.
Sperry said that the trolley ride will be extra festive.
“There will be a brass band playing Christmas music on the trolley,” he said. “And the Venice-Nokomis Women’s Club will be singing Christmas Carols, as well as handing out sale fliers and cold water to riders.”
Because Santa and Mrs. Claus need to eat, of course, they will be stopping for lunch on both days. Friday, at 12:30 p.m., they will be dining at Abby’s on Miami, 220 West Miami Avenue, and Saturday, at 12:30 p.m., they’ll lunch at Bodrum Mediterranean Restaurant, 225 W. Miami Avenue. Both restaurants will be taking reservations for those who would like to dine with Mr. and Mrs. Claus.
On Saturday morning, Santa will be taking a ride on Venice’s own 100-foot Ladder Truck, courtesy of the fine first responders of the Venice Fire Department. After that, he’ll make a stop at the Venice Farmer’s Market.
Lee Peron, who runs both the Venice and Englewood Farmer’s Markets, said that Santa is always a welcome guest.
“Last year he rode down the Avenues Des Parques in the fire truck and then walked through the Market, saying ‘Hi’ to the vendors and customers,” he said. “Our social media director will also be there, and she’ll take a lot of pictures of our customers with him to put on our Facebook page.”
People attending the holiday celebration can find a Participating Merchant’s List on the Trolley and in stores during the two-day event. As of this printing, the participating businesses are:
ARestaurant, Bonnell’s Boutique and Winery, Cafe Venice, Captain’s Landing, Celebration Corner, Ciao Gelato, Cote France, Crate & Marrow, Croissant & Co, Crow’s Nest, Daiquiri Deck, Dana Tyler, Dick’s Shoes, Down Island Way Boutique, DP Fitness and Wellness, Elephants Trunk, Freedom Boat Club, Heitel Jewelers, Island Gift Nook, Laurie Jean & Co., Lisa’s Classic Rose, Luxurious Interiors, Mother’s Cupboard, Nana’s: A Children’s Shop, Patchington, Scarlet Macaw, Shirt Stop, Sirene Coastal Interiors, Southeast Salt, St. Marco Boutique, SunBug, Tangi & Jess, TJ Carney’s, Twist Boutique, Venice Avenue Creamery, Venice In Vogue, Venice Stationers, Venice Trading Co. and Venice Wine & Coffee, who also volunteered to make the gift baskets.