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It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Except for the blizzard-like conditions. And the political arguments that break out around the dinner table. And the pressure to buy toys. So many toys.

Whether you’re looking to escape the cold or just need a break from the usual holiday hubbub, a winter vacation to someplace warm offers a nice change. But just because you’re headed for flip-flop weather doesn’t mean you have to forgo the festivities. Here are destinations where the holiday spirit is as warm as the sunshine.

RELATED: Disney during the holidays—is the magic worth it? (infographic)

Flickr CC: Rain065

Mount Dora, FL

This village just outside of Orlando has charm in spades, with its antique shops, railroad station and tranquil Lake Dora. During the holidays, the place feels even more picturesque as more than 2 million white lights illuminate the downtown streets. Rounding out the storybook feel are events like the tree-lighting ceremony in the center of town, Christmas Tour of Homes and Polar Express train ride at at Tavares Square.

Christmas Boat Parade

Christmas Boat Parade | Photo courtesy of @mj7o2

Newport Beach, CA

As the song goes, it never rains in Southern California. No snow to speak of, either.  So for more than a century, Orange County has celebrated the holidays with the annual Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, a five-night extravaganza that illuminates the harbor with decked-out boats, from kayaks to yachts. For a different view of Newport in all its glory, take a boat tour around the “Ring of Lights”—the locals’ nickname for the shoreline full of lit-up mansions and businesses.

Flickr CC: Doug Knuth

Oaxaca, Mexico

You’ll remember the reason for the season when you spend Christmas in this southwest Mexican city. From December 16 until Christmas Eve, residents perform las posadas (“the inns”), holding candles and singing as they reenact Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter. The holidays are also a great time to explore local churches—an example of Oaxaca’s Spanish-style architecture—and culinary traditions, from doughy buñuelos on street corners to Night of the Radishes, when artisans publicly display their Christmas-themed vegetable carvings. Hey, it beats fruit cake.

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Basseterre, St. Kitts

While most of the world waits until Fat Tuesday to start its Carnival celebration, this Caribbean island gets the party started on December 26. Kicking off on Boxing Day and continuing into the new year, the festivities include parades, street parties and musical competitions, plus performances of drama, dance, poetry and other arts celebrating Kittsian culture.

 

Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

While other Caribbean nations dream of a white Christmas, the locals on this largest of the Cayman Islands make it a reality by “backing sand”—hauling sand from the beach and spreading it across their yard on Christmas Eve so they can wake up to what looks like snow. Homeowners compete to create the most impressive displays, so tour the island on Christmas morning, and you’ll feel like you’re inside of a snow globe, minus the frostbite. Other local traditions include a lighted boat parade in Camana Bay, Jingle Bell Run, countless church concerts and more.

Flickr CC: Daniel Ramirez

Oahu, HI

Honolulu and the surrounding area offer plenty of holiday fun with a Hawaiian twist. Enjoy holiday-themed sand sculptures in the Sheraton Waikiki lobby, glide along the open-air ice skating rink in Ward Village and watch Santa arrive by canoe from the shore to the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort. For those who prefer the cold stuff, there are even a handful of events that offer opportunities to frolic in real Hawaiian snow, including Mimilani Town Association’s annual Snow Day and Salt Lake Shopping Center’s Annual Christmas Event.

 

Viti Luvu, Fiji

It’s worth the price of the plane ticket just to be able to drop the phrase, “I’m spending the holidays in Fiji.” As if staring at the blue-green waters won’t make you merry and bright, this South Pacific nation offers plenty of ways to get into the spirit. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, stop by Ratu Sukuna Park in the evening to enjoy the decorations and hear music by children’s choirs and local bands. And on December 25, many hotels and resorts offer a special Christmas menu with traditional Fijian dishes like Palusami (mutton wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in coconut milk) and kava, a root drink that’ll make you forget eggnog.

Tagged: California, Caribbean, Florida, Hawaii, Los Angeles, Mexico

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Dalia Colon

Dalia Colon

Dalia is a multimedia journalist in Tampa and the Smart Travel Insider for VISIT FLORIDA. Follow her on Twitter @daliacolon.

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