There’s no place like Fort Lauderdale for the holidays. And we’ve got events and happenings to make it a season to remember.

Music & Dance

Maestro James Brooks-Bruzzese
Founding Artistic Director & Conductor of Symphony of the Americas

Around the holidays, the maestro’s house is filled with treasures from around the world, foods from a multicultural family and of course, music.

My favorite time of the year is Christmas – it is so magical and beautiful! It is a time when people always are wishing others a happy and blessed holiday with their families. I personally love the holiday spirit and fill my home with decorations that I have collected throughout my conducting travels.

My piano is decorated with many nutcrackers and a special Panamanian Christmas tree to celebrate my native county. My largest tree in the house has been in the family for over 70 years. It is an old-fashioned tree with many memories from childhood through my children and grandchildren. I love Star Trek and Star Wars, and over the years, I have collected enough of these ornaments to fill an entire holiday tree.

With all the wonderful places in the world my conducting has taken me, I am fortunate to have collected ceramic and other Christmas Village houses from my appearances in over 50 countries. My Christmas Village fills an entire wall of our home. Complete with sparkling lights, it is a wonderful backdrop for the traditional Italian, Panamanian and Russian culinary and holiday traditions of our family.

As to my favorite Christmas song? It’s just that, “The Christmas Song”, known by its more familiar lyrics, “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” and first recorded by the great Nat King Cole in 1950. We perform it often during the holidays, and you can hear it with our Symphony of the Americas and Florida Singing Sons as well as at the Girl Choir of South Florida at the Broward Center on Dec. 3 matinee or Dec. 5th evening performances.

<em>Photography: Shutterstock / Mega Pixel.</em>
Photography: Shutterstock / Mega Pixel.

December 3 & 5th
Symphony of the Americas: Holiday Voices
WHEN: 2 p.m. (Dec. 3) and 7:45 p.m. (Dec. 5)
WHERE: The Broward Center
TICKETS: $20 to $85
Florida Singing Sons and the Girl Choir of South Florida join the symphony for a selection of classical and popular holiday favorites.

December 6th
The Colors of Christmas 25th Anniversary Tour
WHEN: 8 p.m.
WHERE: The Broward Center
TICKETS: $49.50 to $128.50
Peabo Bryson, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr., Ruben Studdard and Jody Watley team up for an evening of holiday favorites.

December 8th
Handel’s Messiah
WHEN: 8 p.m.
WHERE: The Broward Center
TICKETS: $35 to $125
The Master Chorale of South Florida presents the soaring masterpiece.

December 9th
A Well-Strung Christmas
WHEN: 8 p.m.
WHERE: The Broward Center
TICKETS: $35 to $75
All-male singing string quartet Well-Strung is a bit classical, a bit pop – and this time of year, quite festive.

December 11th
A Drag Queen Christmas: The Naughty Tour
WHEN: 8 p.m.
WHERE: Parker Playhouse
TICKETS: $19.06 to $106.38
Contestants from RuPaul’s Drag Race get in the spirit in this all-ages show.

December 15 & 17th
The Nutcracker
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. (December 15), 7:30 p.m.
(December 16) and 3 p.m. (December 17)
WHERE: Parker Playhouse
TICKETS: $16.50 to $105.95
MORE INFO: Parker Playhouse
The Arts Ballet Theatre performs the holiday family favorite.

Theater, Comedy & Variety

Jack Seiler
Mayor of Fort Lauderdale

For the mayor, the holidays mean family – and the grand South Florida institution that ends the holidays is a family tradition.

Christmas and Easter are my favorite times of year first and foremost because of family. What’s nice now is that we get three generations together all the time; it’s a celebration. And secondly, my grandfather founded the Orange Bowl. So we have Christmas and then the next five or six days are what we call the Orange Bowl season.

A lot of families go skiing – we never do that during the holidays. Everybody’s going to be involved in the Orange Bowl. My wife will go with me to the Presidents Dinner, and they have the Athletic Directors’ Dinner. I’ll either be going with my wife, my parents, my kids or all of the above.

I think I went to my first Orange Bowl parade in 1967 and I went to my first game in 1968. I’ve been to every single Orange Bowl game for 49 years. Over the years we’ve become a lot more than just a college football game, and that was always my grandfather’s goal. The game was created to generate tourism dollars. It was originally founded as the Palm Festival in 1932. We were in the Great Depression, the hurricane of ’29 had wiped out Miami and they were dealing with real estate issues here in Florida. The thought was, we’ve got to diversify our tourism base. My father had played college football at what was then Oklahoma A&M, now Oklahoma State; he’d been a two-sport athlete. He was then coaching at Miami High, and he had taken teams up to play in Chicago. At that point, the Rose Bowl had already started. He said, “They’re doing it on the West Coast, we’ll do it on the East Coast.”

Two years later it was reborn as the Orange Bowl, and that’s the year my dad was born. My dad’s now 83 – he worked the floats growing up, he worked the game. Him and his buddies, they all have stories about working around the Orange Bowl. I’m sure the wages weren’t much, if at all. He’s been a state director of the Orange Bowl since 1971; I became a director at the age of 29.

I went to Notre Dame and love Notre Dame – we’ve hosted Notre Dame here numerous times and those games are some of my favorites. Notre Dame beat Alabama in ’75 – that could be my favorite. The other one is that Miami win over Nebraska, when Miami won their first national championship. That was almost miraculous. That was such a long shot, they were such underdogs, taking on Nebraska which is such a legendary program. That was probably the most fun game. I remember that game, every minute of it. It was just electric, just amazing. I was at that game with my grandfather, my dad, and I don’t think my grandfather ever thought he’d see the day Miami would reach that level.

<em>Photography: Shutterstock / YSBrand Cosijn.</em>
Photography: Shutterstock / YSBrand Cosijn.


December 2nd
A Christmas Carol: The Musical
WHEN: 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. WHERE: The Broward Center
Dickens’ timeless tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s fateful Christmas comes to the stage.

December 21-23rd
Sister’s Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magi’s Gold
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. all days with an additional 1 p.m. showing December 23
WHERE: The Broward Center’s Abdo New River Room
TICKETS: $31.50 to $45
Whatever did happen to the Magi’s gold? With help from audience members and an, ahem, stable of characters, one intrepid nun is going to find out.

December 22–23rd
Sarge: The Chanukah Chutzpah Tour
WHEN: 8 p.m.
WHERE: Aventura Arts & Cultural Center
TICKETS: $39.50 to $44.50
The comedian and musician’s show contains new and “just for Chanukah” material. Note: The event contains adult language and content.

December 26–30th
Cirque Dreams Holidaze
WHEN: A mixture of evening and matinee times.
WHERE: The Broward Center
TICKETS: $29.50 to $123
Elaborate production, acrobatics and sheer showmanship make for an enchanting all-ages night.


Shawn Thornton
Former Florida Panthers player, current Panthers VP of Business Operations

For Shawn Thornton, Christmas is about sharing the gift of giving back to the community – a tradition that still lives on to this day.

I’ve had some great Christmas memories throughout the years. My sister and I didn’t grow up well off but you would of never known that if you came to the Thornton house on Christmas. My parents always found a way to spoil my sister and I on December 25th.

I’ve also spent two Christmases by myself, once in Chicago and another in Anaheim while I was trying to break into the NHL. It was obviously all worth it looking back on that time.

My favorite Christmas memory ever doesn’t land on Christmas Day at all though. A few weeks before Christmas in 2011 my wife Erin and I were living in Boston. Erin brought up the idea to take kids from a local hospital who were able to leave the hospital to a movie on Christmas Eve. The idea was instead of buying each other a bunch of gifts around the holidays, why not spend it on something more meaningful. With a lot of help from Kerry Collins at the Boston Bruins, we were able to make this happen. We had about 40 families show up to watch The Muppets movie. The Loews Theater on The Common were very generous and not only donated the theater but also made sure there was popcorn and soda for everyone. The genuine thanks and appreciation from the families made this the greatest Christmas I’ve ever experienced.

We have continued to do this every year since that first year whether I was in Boston or Florida. It is a group effort with the Florida Panthers Community Relations team and my Shawn Thornton Foundation now. We really look forward to the 24th of December every year now so we can provide these families with Christmas memories that will hopefully last a lifetime.

<em>Photography: Shutterstock / Mega Pixel.</em>
Photography: Shutterstock / Mega Pixel.

December 4–7th
Florida Panthers Toy Drives
WHEN: Prior to Panthers games
WHERE: BB&T Center
The Panthers host Toys for Tots (December 4) and Caravan of Joy (December 7). Fans may bring new and unwrapped toys to the BB&T Center prior to the game on both days.

December 15th
The Bad Santa Bus Loop
WHEN: From 6 p.m.
WHERE: Multiple locations around Fort Lauderdale
Money raised from this annual event goes to charities including Covenant House, the Jessica June Children’s Cancer Foundation and Jack & Jill Children’s Center. It’s a noble cause – and all you have to do is ride one of the trolleys that will be dropping off and picking up participants all night at participating bars where you get a complimentary drink.

December 16th
Set the Holiday Table Sort-A-Thon
WHEN: 8 to 10 a.m., 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (the kids’ shift) and 1 to 3:30 p.m.
WHERE: Feeding South Florida’s main warehouse, 2501 SW 32nd Ter., Pembroke Park
Food bank Feeding South Florida stays busy all year but naturally, the holidays are a particularly busy time. Come help out by getting food ready to go where it needs to go.

December 17th
Jingle Bell Jog
WHEN: 7:30 a.m. (5K), 8:30 a.m. (Little Elf Dashes)
WHERE: DC Alexander Park
TICKETS: $35 (5K), $20 (dashes)
It’s just your normal 5k – oh, except that you’re given a Santa suit that you’re expected to run in.


Tara Chadwick
Fort Lauderdale Historical Society

For Tara Chadwick, whose work at the historical society includes a challenging new exhibit examining the many narratives of Fort Lauderdale history, the holidays offer the important family history surrounding the art of cookie-making.

In our family, Christmas cookies are not just a nicety to be purchased and shared. Oh no, the cookie making is an indelible process in creating the holiday season. Patience, selflessness and inspiration are the values that are imparted, imprinted onto each successive generation of cookie makers, cookie-making hosts, and cookie-making helpers. Each role is as crucial as the others to ensure an adequate supply of precisely decorated and flavored cookies arrives, unscathed, to the kitchen table at the exact time and location of the inevitable holiday dinner gathering of 40+ members of our immediate family. Cookie making is a saga.

For me, it began with my grandmother. Me and her, making cookies out of unbleached, whole oat flour, cut into little gingerbread boys and girls, with a hole in their heads to tie onto a garland of fresh cedar boughs that hung along the dining room ceiling. Each carefully decorated with pink and green piped icing buttons, blouses, dresses and trousers. To a Floridian, it was an unthinkable act. Hanging cookies out in the open for a month on end, no Tupperware, no plastic wrap, just as a decoration – unthinkable! The bugs, the ants, the humidity!

But in the beautiful barnwood covered Birchston Cottage, perched atop the north shore of glacial till comprising the geologic wonder known as the Scarborough Bluffs, overlooking the shining waters of Wabanew Gamee or Lake Ontario, the world outside at this time of year is a sleepy, frozen one, more often than not covered in a soft blanket of shimmering snow crystals, with ants, bugs and other creatures tucked safely away in their winter hibernation habitats. Leaving us humans to bask in the warm glow of the living room fireplace and gaze longingly at the handmade cookie ornaments, waiting to be devoured on or around the sixth day of January with the de-installation of all holiday decor. Mmmm, more memorable than the actual gift giving!

Here in South Florida, the cookie-making process takes on a much less cozy, relaxed and more frantic and crazed character – always battling against rain or wind or time or else fully engaged in the fierce competition to create the most beautifully decorated sugar cookie.

For one thing, our cookie making here in South Florida includes much more extended family – it’s a cousins’ affair. And no matter how well prepared we think we are with ingredients, potholders, aprons and accoutrements, it seems by the end of the cookie-making event, we always run out of time. It’s fierce but friendly family competition.

When I was little we used to mix the batter together and cut out our own cookies to decorate. Now that my little sister has taken on the role of lead cookie-making host, she makes and bakes the cookies ahead of time, assembling leaning towers of gingerbread people, spruce trees, stars and stockings, all ready and waiting for the decorating frenzy to begin.
It’s fun, frustrating, occasionally infuriating – all those things that make family a force of unrelenting reality in a world we too often experience as virtual.

December 9th
The Seminole Hard Rock Winterfest Boat Parade
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. to 11:55 p.m.
WHERE: The New River downtown and the Intracoastal
north to Lake Santa Barbara in Pompano Beach
TICKETS: Free; there are various paid VIP viewing areas and parties
Many cities have festive parades. But in Fort Lauderdale, we put ours on the water. Come see the brightly decorated boats go past in the biggest Lauderdale Christmas tradition of all.

December 17–23rd
Victorian Christmas
WHEN: 9 p.m.
WHERE: Begins at the Stranahan House
The Stranahan House’s famous Christmas celebration features Victorian décor, live music and refreshments at the house, then a boat ride down the river.

December 21st
Historic Solstice Cruise
WHEN: 6 p.m.
WHERE: Begins at the New River Inn
TICKETS: $45 to $55
Start at the New River Inn with wine, spirits and light bites, then board a boat to view holiday lights and learn stories of early settlers and first peoples along the New River.

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