How about a white (sand) Christmas in Florida?

Those of us who have always spent our winter holidays in Chicago can’t imagine not having a white Christmas. Even people like me, who would rather live somewhere much, much warmer, tend to welcome snow from mid-day on Dec. 24 through the morning of Dec. 26.

If you ask Tracy Louthain, there are white Christmases in Florida, too. “We have white sand Christmases,” says Louthain. She’s the spokesperson for the tourism office of the Beaches of South Walton, the 15 beach communities that line 26 miles of beach along the Florida Panhandle.

The communities were devastated by the BP oil leak, which arrived along with the first tourists of the summer season. The oil is gone now and the sand is white again.

Louthain admits that once in a while a tar ball still washes ashore, but in the rare event that happens, there is a system in place for dealing with it quickly.

The Florida Panhandle is the Sunshine State destination for families who want a laid-back vacation (no crowded amusement parks here), like to spread out (by booking an individual cottage) and save money (having access to a full kitchen makes it easy to save on food costs when vacationing with kids and there are several specials aimed at wooing back travelers who were scared off by the oil).

It’s a long, but doable 15-hour drive from Chicago. Southwest and Delta also fly into the new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, although you would probably need to rent a car once you arrive.

If you head there for the winter holidays, be prepared for a lot of holiday spirit. “We are very Christmas-y down here,” Louthain says.

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