We traveled to Florida to spend the holiday season with Linda's brother Rodney in Melbourne Beach, Florida. It was definitely a first for both of us. We had spent a few weeks there in March and April 2010.

Christmas in Florida is decidedly different than here in the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania. Of course there is no snow and it is quite a change seeing palm and banana trees instead of our Pa. hardwoods and fir trees.

There is a lot to enjoy in Florida. Melbourne Beach is located in central Florida, on the east coast about 1 ½ hours south of Daytona Beach. Every day but one was sunny; not the usual drab December we experience here. One day the locals complained that the low overnight was 46 degrees. We smiled at that statement. Most days were 70 plus degrees; one day hit 80.

Folks in Florida do put up a lot of outdoor and indoor decorations. They do something quite a bit different on Christmas Eve. We heard and saw lots of fireworks displays; something we usually experience around here only on Memorial Day and the 4th of July. It was quite a sight sitting on the beach and seeing the beautiful ocean tides and seeing fireworks. I experienced the Christmas and New Year season while on active duty in the United States Navy at Little Creek, Virginia. I do not remember any fireworks displays at the naval base.

Melbourne Beach is considered a Barrier Island. One can only reach it and other connected land masses by a series of bridges from mainland Florida. There is water on both the east and west side. On the west, flows the Indian River, a fertile fresh and salt water body. On the east is the Atlantic Ocean. The island is from just ¼ mile to maybe a 1/2 mile in width. The main highway on Melbourne Beach is A1A.

There are a lot of opportunities to observe wildlife at our location. We saw lots of shore birds, pelicans and ospreys; sadly no Bald Eagles. Linda, aka "shutterbug;" had lots of opportunities to photograph the wildlife on Indian River and the Atlantic Ocean. We also visited the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, where they focus on sea turtles.

On the island is a large grocery store, Publix, a chain store. We had the joy of observing the Salvation Army kettle folks. Up here they ring bells. At the entrance to the Publix store, a mother's son and daughter were playing violins; quite a nice change to observe. We visited with them a bit.

Christmas Eve was a wonderful time for us. We attended a local Catholic Church and worshiped at their Mass. Since my Father was Catholic, the mass was quite easy to follow and quite spiritual. The singing was wonderful and taking communion was special for all of us.

You might be interested in how some of the locals spend Christmas Day. We hit the beach in late morning. There were a lot of men fishing, they call it surf casting, while their families enjoyed the beach life. We never had the chance to work on our tans on Christmas Day; that was delightful.

Life is quite on the slow side where we were. All the folks were quite friendly. When I told one lady that we lived in a town of 170 in upstate Pennsylvania, she replied, "You live on a bus stop." We chuckled at that response.

We visited the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina on our way south. That was memorable experience for us. Linda has always wanted to visit there. More observations on our trip to Florida in my next column.

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Jim Collins is an outdoor columnist for The Sunday Review. He can be contacted by e-mail at jimcollinsinsurance@frontiernet.net or by mail at Outdoors with Jim Collins, HC, 1: 87 Windfall Road, Alba, PA 16910.