Showfolks Circus, another "Sarasota only" tradition, marks the official beginning of the holidays for us.
All the acts perform free to benefit the Showfolks Club of Sarasota; it's different every year, but in the best years, you'll see youngsters trying to impress the many circus producers from around the country who scout the show every year for new acts.
And sometimes we see "farewell acts" such as the 70-year-old wire walker who swore he could do it one last time-and after stopping our hearts a few times, he really did.
Performers and their families laugh, cry and hug just about anybody as they celebrate coming back home to Sarasota, having made it through another season on the road.
So if you really want to understand Sarasota and the circus people so important in its history a bit better, treat yourself and any youngsters you can find to Showfolks Circus.
Scheduled this year for Saturday, Dec. 8, at Robarts Arena, the one-day-only afternoon and evening performances really mark the annual return of the circus community for a couple of months of rest, rehearsals and development of new acts.
Oysters are the official holiday food at my house, and the more local, the better. Years past, my buddy Jim Watt would show up with a burlap sack of Midnight Pass 'coon oysters-those little salty ones the raccoons like so much-and some beers under his arm.
How can you find a better friend than that?
With Midnight Pass gone and nobody I know brave enough to eat local oysters, we now buy them from Walt's for $25 a bag-a wonderful bargain. The $25 buys you at least a gross of oysters-an appropriate term, in some people's thinking-surely more than you and friends can eat in one sitting, and in a genuine burlap bag, to boot.
Actually, November is deep enough into the fall to eat oysters, so we generally start with a bag at Thanksgiving and repeat the performance at Christmas.
Now that we have at least two good French bakeries in town, some folks consider bûche Noel the appropriate holiday treat, but I'm sticking with my $25 bags.
NO GIFTS, PLEASE
Leave it to the City Commission. First it forced City Manager David Sollenberger to retire effective Jan. 1. Then, a couple of months later as he prepared to leave his duties, the commission offered him a raise.
In true Sollenberger style, without a word or even a lifted eyebrow, he personally removed the item authorizing his raise from an upcoming commission agenda-effectively telling commissioners exactly what they could do with their raise.
Even a fallen-away Unitarian needs a home and warmth on Christmas Eve.
And midnight Mass at St. Martha's-"the church the circus built"-fills the bill so well that some years you'll find dozens of us pilgrims just standing around outside the overflowing church, basking in the Christmas warmth.
If you're lucky enough to find a seat inside, be sure to look into the southwest corner of the sanctuary and notice another unique piece of Sarasota history. It's a huge stained-glass window called "The Good Shepherd," dedicated to "The Ringling Brothers."
No, John and all his older brothers weren't good Catholics-and in fact, all but John were dead when the window was dedicated in 1936, in return for benefit circus performances helping St. Martha's build the church you now see at Fruitville and Orange.
Somehow Christmas Eve is comfortable in "the church the circus built."
Sarasota Mayor Carolyn Mason was born in Overtown, the near northside area that was the city's original black neighborhood. At 14, she moved to Newtown, where she still resides.
Q: Are you ready for an old-fashioned Newtown Christmas?
A: Oh, I'm ready. I'm getting to the point where Christmas has some meaning again because of my grandchildren. It's also the time of the year when I can do my favorite thing, which is helping people. Helping them find whatever they need-toys, clothes or whatever, to get through the season.
Q. So you don't have any bitterness about growing up black in Sarasota?
A: No. We certainly didn't have a lot, but we honestly didn't know we were poor. There was a terrific sense of family and that led to a sense of community-kind of like that so-called "village concept" the planners are all talking about these days. Our community was so tight that when somebody saw you doing something you shouldn't, they told your Mama. You might call it an early version of neighborhood watch--a real cheap version.
Q: And the obvious separateness of the races?
A: We didn't know any different. The separateness from whites actually made us in the black community closer. And really, growing up in Sarasota I thought that's the way the whole world was. The lesson for all of us is that we can never let the separateness happen again. There were great people of both races who crossed that line between them, but that line should never have existed.
Q: Are you tired of being called "Sarasota's first black, female mayor"?
A: Heck, no-I'm proud of it. The title will wear off one of these days, just like those who always used to mention that I'm now a Republican.