It’s time for bluegrass and barbecue in old Christmas

Bluegrass fills the air at Cracker Christmas

Bluegrass fills the air at Cracker Christmas

For many Central Floridians, December wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Cracker Christmas at Fort Christmas Historical Park in far-east Orange County. This two-day celebration of Florida pioneer life traditionally takes place the first weekend of the month (in 2013, that’s Dec. 7 and 8).

In search of seasonal feature stories, journalists from near and far often join the crowds at the annual festival, which typically draws more than 15,000 folks each year.

Named by Seminole-fighting soldiers on Dec. 25 in 1837, the community of Christmas, Florida, is about as venerable as it gets in the state’s pioneer past. The park itself, given to the county in 1931, is also one of Orange’s oldest.

CrackerChristmasFlier-2During one festival a few years ago, visitors listened to bluegrass tunes, took cards to the Christmas postal booth to be stamped with the town’s famous postmark, bought books by authors including Florida Artists Hall of Famer Patrick Smith, and consumed copious quantities of barbecue, fried potatoes, and roasted corn. They could also get a taste of life on the Florida frontier at the replica of the 1837 fort or the park’s original Cracker houses, where vendors and volunteers demonstrated old-time crafts.

Joe Gallelli of Geneva gets a `boondoggle' lesson from Aimee Nichols of St. Augustine at a Cracker Christmas festival.

Joe Gallelli of Geneva gets a `boondoggle’ lesson from Aimee Nichols of St. Augustine at a Cracker Christmas festival.

At a display near the Cracker cabins, Aimee Nichols of St. Augustine sat with a sizable sabal palm frond in her lap, weaving it into a “boondoggle” — a decoration she said was often used to welcome newcomers to a community in the pioneer South and served as a Christmas gift.

Neighbors would come to the cabin of a newly arrived family with a fresh-baked pie and the palm decoration, which the family hung on their front door so “others would know they had been welcomed,” Nichols said.

Elsewhere in the park, fans of a showpiece of 20th-century American design — the Airstream travel trailer — helped keep the event rolling smoothly.

airstream1If the silvery trailers’ aerodynamic design at first seemed incongruous at an event that celebrates the antique and roughhewn, the travel trailers do have a link to old Christmas in the pioneer spirit they embody — a mixture of adventurous exploration and lending a hand.

“Don’t stop. Keep right on going,” Airstream’s founder Wally Byam once wrote. “Go see what’s over the next hill, and the one after that, and the one after that.”

For details on Cracker Christmas, visit and go to events.