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Sights and sounds abound



Heathcote Botanical Gardens

A manatee appears to float in water next to seagrass at Heathcote Botanical Gardens in Fort Pierce. This and many other lighted displays including a pond, a garden workbench and more fill the gardens for the holidays.

Parades on land and sea, brilliant light displays and Santa visits highlight busy festive season

BY SUSAN BURGESS

Celebrate the very best of the 2017 holidays as you feast your eyes on thousands of colorful twinkling lights and enjoy sparkling events around the Treasure Coast in November and December.

Boat parades, downtown parades, Santa visits and villages, holiday concerts, and even ice skating are part of the Treasure Coast’s way of celebrating the holidays.

On the day after Thanksgiving, Heathcote Botanical Gardens in Fort Pierce flips the switch to open its exquisite Garden of Lights created by a cadre of dedicated volunteers. It takes months to form a dazzling blue pond, vineyard with gleaming purple grapes, a bright workbench complete with tools, a glowing bicycle, and plenty more. Director Diane Kimes says new displays have been added, making the gardens under the stars even more intriguing.

Botanical gardens turn out to be feasts for the senses during the holidays. ‘Twas the Night Before... is a holiday flower show with all the bright blossoms and enticing scents you might expect. Take the family to see it at the Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens in early December. Santa will come by to visit the children, too.

McKee Botanical Garden in Vero Beach sparkles with its outstanding lighted displays and thousands of lights. The kid-friendly holiday weekend features a large-scale model train with colorful Christmas cars winding through a village, past a blue post office, a businessman buying a newspaper, the firehouse with a red fire truck in the doorway, over bridges, through tunnels and alongside homes. The vintage Wurlitzer Band Organ fills your ears with sweet nostalgic music.

Buildings donated by some of the patrons of the garden are set up by volunteers in a magical holiday village called McKeesville in the garden’s Hall of Giants. The Village showcases 40 individually lighted buildings including a bank, post office, garage, several churches, a nursery, TV repair shop, manor homes and a frozen skating pond. It also features a parade with marching musicians and Santa on his sleigh.

Phil Reid, a photographer, will capture the beauty and photograph guests, donating the entire proceeds to the garden. And, the handbell ensemble from First United Methodist Church will bring its striking melodic sounds to the bamboo pavilion.

The Riverside Theatre in Vero Beach transforms into a winter wonderland even before Thanksgiving arrives. The much anticipated Festival of Trees weekend is a must for many families and individuals around the Treasure Coast and even beyond. The sparkling holiday event has expanded from inside to most of the outdoor Riverside campus and features an artificial ice rink again this year, a delight for the kids and their parents.

“They can skate in shorts and shortsleeves, no coats,” says Oscar Sales, spokesman for the Riverside. “It’s so much fun to watch.” Santa’s Village is outside with its Candy Cane Cafe, arts and crafts, and of course, Santa himself. And, families can look forward to more outdoor decorations than ever.

Inside, more than 50 trees adorned with Sugar and Spice-themed decorations are on display in a holiday forest that twinkles, glitters, and shines with holiday spirit. An intricately made gingerbread village, handmade wreaths, choirs on stage, a gift shop with unusual gifts, and vendors of holiday decorations fill the space in the children’s theatre.

Star of Wonder, the very popular 24-year-old Christmas show at the Hallstrom Planetarium in Fort Pierce, is getting a makeover thanks to students from Indian River State College who are assisting director Jon Bell. The show brings to life the skies of more than 2,000 years ago in a search for the star that may have guided the Magi. Bell says Colette Godfrey and Kyle Delaum are providing the expertise he needs to give audiences updated sky shows.

Sights and Sounds on Second, a festive and much-loved holiday event in its 29th year, is expanding its children’s activities this year, says Pam Gillette, spokeswoman for Main Street Fort Pierce. “This year’s festival will be filled with magic in the air and music all around the downtown.”

Local dance studios will perform and so will the Sunrise Jazz Combo. The parade theme is A Magical, Musical Christmas. Grand marshal is the Fort Pierce Jazz & Blues Society. After the parade, watch the tall Christmas tree light up against the evening sky, followed by the dancing lights and music of the Holiday Lights Spectacular in the park.

There are plenty of parades around the Treasure Coast. In Stuart, the Visiting Nurse Association is sponsoring the 57th annual Stuart Christmas Parade with a theme of I’ll be Home for Christmas. Filled with beautiful floats, it starts at 7 p.m. on Ocean Boulevard at Monterey Road and ends at Georgia Avenue. Thousands of eager watchers line Ocean Boulevard, and probably the best place of all to view the parade is near the judge’s stand just west of Hospital Avenue.

“This year we have a new app for web-based voting,” says Kerri Whittle, executive vice president of the VNA of Florida. “We’ve added the Viewer’s Choice Award for the crowd’s favorite float.”

Port St. Lucie hosts the Festival of Lights and tree lighting plus a parade at the civic center. But there are even more parades – one in Hobe Sound, one in Sebastian, and one on the island in Vero Beach.

Then there are the “can’t miss” boat parades. Sponsored by the Marine Industries Association of the Treasure Coast, you’ll find one in each county. This year Martin and St. Lucie counties have their parades beginning at 6 p.m. Dec. 9. The Indian River County Boat Parade is Dec. 16 at 6 p.m. The floating parades feature boats decorated to the hilt, ablaze with lights, displaying elves, reindeer, Santa, workshops and more. Against the dark sky they are spectacular. If you’ve never seen a boat parade, at least one of these should be on your calendar.

The Hobe Sound Singing Christmas Tree is a full scale production with about 75 voices in the choir, an orchestra, a Christmas pageant, and a cast of around 50. Thousands of people attend and seats are first-come, first-served reservations. But fair warning, if you are not there by 6:15 p.m. you may find your seats for these free performances have been released. Doors open at 6 p.m. for the 7 p.m. performance on Nov. 30, Dec. 1, 2 and 3 at the Hobe Sound Bible Church and College.

Love Handel’s Messiah? You can enjoy it twice this year. The first performance is at North Stuart Baptist Church on Dec. 9 and 10 and the second is at First Baptist Church in Vero Beach the following weekend.

This is a good year to leave lots of space on the calendar for holiday events of all kinds because it looks like the Treasure Coast holidays will be bigger and busier than they have been for a long time.