By Angel Lee

Whether you're a Florida resident or just passing through, the gift of fresh Florida citrus brings the Sunshine State into your home for the holidays.

The holiday season brings a flurry of images to mind. Snowball fights. Caroling. Roasting chestnuts on an open fire. Santa wading in from his jet-ski with a bag full of fruit. Ok, that last one was purely the Floridian in me.

While the Sunshine State may not fit the typical description of a Winter Wonderland, I wouldn't want to spend the holidays anywhere else. It took me a while to fully appreciate the beauty of a Florida winter, but after 28 years I've learned to celebrate my inner sunshine. The key was embracing the state's unique holiday traditions, and giving them a twist of my own.

A Personal Twist

One of my family's favorite holiday traditions is walking down St. Pete Beach in the crisp – but not too cold – air, collecting seashells and sand dollars to paint and cover with glitter before hanging them on our tree. (Though we don't trek into the snow-covered forest to chop down our tree, it's beautiful nonetheless.)

At night, we gather on balconies, patios and beaches to watch dozens of boats decked out in Christmas lights "parade" through our waterways. Our favorite is the Treasure Island Annual Lighted Boat Parade, which wraps up near John's Pass Village & Boardwalk – but many other parts of the state have their own.

We drive through neighborhoods aglow with lights, admiring the twinkling palm trees and elaborate holiday displays (more than a few times, we've spotted Santa's sleigh being pulled by a team of very regal-looking pink flamingos). We bundle up and watch It's a Wonderful Life on TV while munching on fresh orange peel candy my mother made.

The Fruits of Sweet Sunshine

Yes, there's definitely something special about spending the holidays in the land of sunshine.

And you gotta love that while the rest of the country is practically hibernating, Florida's citrus industry is kicking into high gear. I personally appreciate this because it makes my Christmas shopping a whole lot easier. (And oh – gift fruit also makes for healthy, delicious presents and supports our Florida citrus growers.) And face it: no matter where you live, shopping is one of the greatest holiday traditions of all.

I came upon this gift fruit idea a few years ago when my friend from Washington State came to visit. She wandered around the backyard, staring at our orange trees in awe. She ate oranges for breakfast, lunch, dinner and even for a midnight snack. So when it came time to send her a holiday gift the next year, I knew what would do the trick.

I went online to and ordered her a big basket brimming with Florida citrus. I knew she'd love it, but I didn't expect the gushing and squealing that accompanied my thank you phone call. This made me realize that I wasn't taking full advantage of the treasure trove of unique gifts offered by my home state.

Spreading Cheer with Citrus

Gift fruit has become my signature holiday offering for family and friends. There is literally something for everyone. For those who love variety, I send a package with a sprinkling of everything from juicy citrus to orange blossom honey to chocolate alligators, all decorated and wrapped with a bow.

For my health conscious relatives and friends I stick with the classics – baskets of oranges, grapefruit and tangerines. I can even purchase a fruit of the month program so they can taste a little bit of everything year ‘round.

To the kiddies in the family, or those with a grown-up sweet tooth, I send orange-infused chocolates, key lime cookies and citrus jelly candies along with a box of sweet navel oranges.

And the days of plain boxes and bushels are gone. I can get creative and send a box of fruit dressed up like little Christmas carolers, a Kiss box of Honeybell Oranges mixed with Hershey's Kisses or a monumental tower of tangerines layered with nuts and candies. I once sent a miniature Christmas tree made from a variety of fruit with jams layered beneath.

To save my budget, there are even choices from $25 and under. It's my little way of giving family and friends up north a real taste of the holidays in paradise.

While they're sleigh riding, sledding and, inevitably, shoveling the sidewalk, I'm sitting on my back porch sipping hot chocolate or strolling down the beach. If I'm at the beach on a crystal clear night, the moonlight strikes the sand and it seems to glow – much the way I imagine the snow does up north.