A forest of lights can only mean that it's Christmas in Miami

 

(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published Dec. 7, 2003.)

I love Christmas in Miami.

Oh, sure, it's not like Christmas up north. We don't have Jack Frost nipping at our nose: We have Harvey Heat Rash nipping at our underwear regions. And we never look outside on Christmas morning to discover that the landscape has been magically transformed by a blanket of white, unless a cocaine plane has crashed on our lawn.

But forget the climate. Christmas is not about weather. It's about the holiday spirit, and there is only one true measure of that: the number of colored light bulbs in residential yards.

By that standard, Miami has holiday spirit out the wazoo. We have many homeowners who cross the fine line, in terms of illumination, between "tasteful holiday yard display" and "municipal airport." You know the houses I mean: The ones with a Frosty the Snowman the size of Godzilla; the ones with so many lights in the trees that you need an umbrella to avoid being struck by the falling bodies of electrocuted squirrels.

I realize there are homeowners like that in other communities: I'm just saying that Miami has them, too. But we have something else: We have a holiday attraction called "Santa's Enchanted Forest, " which is hard to describe, although I will try.

Have you ever been to a county or state fair, the kind where the midway is lined with trailers selling, basically, globs of fried grease? Sometimes there's dough in the grease glob; sometimes there's potato; sometimes there's an old issue of National Geographic. It doesn't matter: You're at a fair, so you eat it.

This creates a digestive emergency that causes all the blood in your body to rush to your stomach, thus depriving your brain of oxygen and rendering you so stupid you decide it would be fun to go on a ride with a name like "The Regurg-a-Tator, " wherein you willingly get into an insanely dangerous-looking contraption operated by men whose total educational background consists of reading their own tattoos. Next thing you know, you're being whirled violently around, and the air is filled with a festive mixture of laughter, screams, stomach contents, dentures and the occasional artificial eyeball.

If you've ever experienced this brand of carnival fun, you've probably asked yourself: Where do these things go in the winter? The answer is: to Santa's Enchanted Forest. This is an attraction that springs up in Miami every November next to an expressway. It bills itself as "The World's Largest Christmas Theme Park and Free Carnival, " which is accurate, if you define "free" as "costing money."

Santa's Enchanted Forest is a bizarre mutant cross between a carnival midway and the world's tackiest Christmas yard display. You have the carnival food and rides, but you also have 3 million - yes, MILLION - lights. Interspersed among the carnival attractions and food trailers are displays depicting traditional Christmas themes such as Santa Claus, Rudolph, Blues Clues, the Power Puff Girls, and of course the Nativity. This can be disorienting: You expect to see the Three Wise Men approaching the baby Jesus bearing gifts of corn dogs.

Santa's Enchanted Forest also has (why not?) animal acts, including alligators and elephants. Last year they had an act called "Randall's High-Diving Pigs, " which features pigs that dive into water, just as the Bible tells us that pigs did to celebrate the very first Christmas.

(On the website for Randall's High-Diving Pigs, they have Frequently Asked Questions, including: "Do the pigs like to dive?" The answer given is: "They love to dive! Pigs have no sweat glands, so they need water to keep them cool." That would explain why you so often see pigs diving in the wild.)

We go to Santa's Enchanted Forest every year to soak up the traditional holiday atmosphere - the lights, the smell of decades-old grease simmering in the South Florida humidity, the carols blaring from loudspeakers, the screams of the Regurg-a-Tator riders, the pigs soaring through the night air. There's always a festive crowd, because Miami celebrates Christmas from Thanksgiving through approximately Groundhog Day.

Miami loves to party. We party to celebrate when something good happens, such as winning the World Series, which we do, like clockwork, every six years. When something bad happens, we party to cheer ourselves up. When nothing is happening, we party because we are bored. If Fidel ever dies, Miami will not regain consciousness for decades.

But my point is this: Christmas is fun in Miami. Come join us, if you can. And if you can't, wherever you are, have a Merry Christmas. Or, as we say in Miami: Feliz Navidad! (This is Spanish for "Caution, falling squirrels.")

(c) 2009, Dave Barry
This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Electronic or print reproduction, adaptation, or distribution without permission is prohibited. Ordinary links to this column at http://www.miamiherald.com may be posted or distributed without written permission.

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