Celebrating the holidays in a tropical climate is bound to be a little unconventional. While northerners are eating turkey and dreaming of a white Christmas we’re still catching delicious fish and grilling it up in the perfect mid-70 degree sunshine. We might not have a fireplace to roast chestnuts, but we have a few holiday traditions of our own that make this time of year feel cozy and special.
One of the beloved holiday traditions in the Keys is seeing our Fred get all dressed up and decorated in festive garb. No, Fred is not a person – he is a tree. While we normally prefer the sight of tall palms, Fred is our resident evergreen tree and he is unique for a number of reasons. Fred has rooted and grown out of the Old Seven Mile Bridge with no soil and exposed to the sun, salt water, and winds the Florida Keys are known for. It defies nature for Fred the tree to thrive in such conditions, which has become a symbol of surviving and growing in adversity.
The Australian pine is not indigenous to the area – Fred is suspected by ecologists to have been “planted” by a seed from bird droppings. Like many transplants who have settled in the Keys and quickly become “locals”, Fred planted roots and has stuck around ever since. It out-of-placeness has led locals to take a liking to the tree and everything it symbolizes. While it’s unclear where the name came from, residents started calling the tree Fred and the name has become as entrenched as the tree itself.
That’s why when US 1 was finally reopened in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in 2017, locals were pleasantly shocked to find Fred still standing. Fred faced one of the worst natural disasters in decades and survived. Like the people that live here, Fred came out of the storm a little battered but alive and with clear plans to stay put. Fred has enjoyed a degree of fame for being the little tree that survived the hurricane. He has gone from being a local favorite to a bonafide landmark, even having books written about him.
Every year around the holidays some island “elves” work to decorate Fred and get him ready for the season, adorning his branches with Christmas lights, menorahs, and ornaments. In the years since Irma, this tradition has become especially important. During the holidays we celebrate the importance of giving, family and community. It is the strength of these pillars that helped to rebuild our community in the wake of Irma, which makes the decorating of Fred an even more significant annual reminder.
From Fred and all of us at Islamorada Times – happy holidays!