ORLANDO, Fla. – Christmas, Florida does not have snow.
It does not have reindeer, you won’t find carolers in the streets or whimsical cottages. The closest thing you’ll find to chestnuts roasting on an open fire are gator steaks roasting on a propane grill.
So why would a swampy Central Florida town be given such a jolly name?
Located between Kennedy Space Center and Orlando, the rural community embraced its yuletide heritage long ago with street names like St. Nicolas Avenue and Comet Streeet.
Producer Katrina Scales is diving deeper into her favorite random Florida facts from 2022.
On Friday’s episode of Your Florida Daily: the history behind the name, the famous Christmas postmark and why the world’s largest alligator calls this quiet country town home.
Here’s a brief history behind the town’s name:
Christmas was founded on Dec. 25, 1837. Seminole Indians and white settlers clashed over ownership of the land and when settlers needed reinforcement, they called in a brigade of U.S. soldiers.
The soldiers built a supply fort on Christmas Day for the Second Seminole War, but in the end, it never saw a day of battle. Today, a full-scale replica fort sits in its place and if you grew up in Central Florida, chances are you came here on a field trip or two.
But the fort isn’t what makes Christmas famous.
During the holidays, the U.S. Post Office is where the magic really happens, which is led by Dawn King.
“We have letters to Santa box in our lobby that kids can write to Santa. And he does his best to write back,” King said.
She is in charge of overseeing the busiest building in town.
“I have been at this office for 10 years. This is my 10th Christmas here,” she said.
Every winter, people flock to this tiny post office to decorate their holiday letters and packages with a special stamp.
“It says ‘Greetings from Christmas, Florida’ and has a little decoration across above it,” King said. “We got a new one last year but it always says ‘Greetings from Christmas, Florida.’”
And for some families, it’s a tradition that goes far beyond Florida.
“We have people come from North Carolina. We have people come from Texas. We have people mail their carts to us. I have people from England — all over. They just mail it here for the postmark every year.”
All of this happens in a building about the size of a 7-Eleven with just a handful of clerks.
“I have a great staff here and we get people in and out as quickly as we can handle in packages and stamps and everybody’s very patient about waiting their turn and it works out,” King said.
People I spoke with outside the post office told me the holiday rush used to be much bigger in the 1980s.
“It used to be crowded,” a man said. “They’d have two tables out there and stamps on there. And it’s just sort of gotten less and less people now.”
Nonetheless, people are moving to Christmas every year. According to census data, the population has more than doubled since 2010.
This has left less room for another kind of Florida resident.
“This is like a retirement home for alligators,” Jim Greene said.
The story of Christmas, Florida would not be complete without talking about Jungle Adventures — a zoo for native animals and abandoned exotic pets, complete with a 200-ft green concrete gator out front, named Swampy.
“It’s just a unique building that catches people’s attention. It’s amazing how many people drive by here 70 miles an hour and don’t even see it,” Greene said.
Jim Greene, also known as Jungle Jim, has been a fixture at Jungle Adventures for decades.
Greene used to be a trapper in Brevard County helping ease the wild population of gators by selling their hides and their meat.
“Out of all of the animals we use for food, even fish, the healthiest for people is the alligator,” Greene said. “You can sauté it or fry it. You can bake it, you can put it on a grill — any way you like to prepare food, you can do that with an alligator.”
But the gators at Jungle Adventures are not destined to become appetizers or purses.
Many were removed from neighborhoods or injured and brought here to live out the rest of their lives.
“We can take in the bigger ones that need a home. We have about 12 acres here, fenced in so they have the full run of this whole swamp.”
This isn’t some Orlando tourist trap or theme park.
Greene said this place is where visitors can get a “true” Florida experience.
“The real Florida. And it’s being developed, we’re losing it. It’s just a family group of employees that run it now that love the animals and we love sharing it with people especially the misunderstood animals like the alligators,” Greene said.
Ryan Brown has worked here for 25 years.
“The main thing is education here. We’re not looking to make a million dollars,” Brown said. “You know, we want to keep the place open so we can educate more people about the animals that need to be educated about because they get forgotten. To me, that’s what makes it special to me. It’s why I’ve stuck around for so long.”
Brown and Greene tell me the population growth around Christmas is pushing more wildlife — like gators, panthers and tortoises — into developed areas.
“Watching Titusville grow in this way. You know, it’s getting big, and it’s scary because it’s creeping up on us. And I don’t want it to creep up too much, you know,” Brown said.
For now, Christmas remains relatively unspoiled—no strip malls, high-rises or golf courses yet.
Brown said he hopes visitors will see this marshy backwood and appreciate this place for what it is: natural.
“Look, this is Florida. Love it or leave it,” he said.
Thanks for listening to last week’s special episodes of Your Florida Daily. Listen every weekday on ClickOrlando.com, Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
Copyright 2022 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.
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