BRADENTON BEACH -- Florida residents don't typically see white Christmases, but some Manatee locals have started something better: A Christmas at the beach.
Helene and Mike Sullivan of Parrish started the tradition 11 years ago, going to Coquina Beach together to put their feet in the sand and look out over the water.
"We moved here in July 2003, and we were actually living in a boat, and when Christmas came around my husband asked me what I wanted to do," Helene Sullivan said. "And I told him, 'I want to sit on the beach, have a drink and see a dolphin.' And that's exactly what we did."
After the first year, another couple joined them in 2004. Then another couple joined in 2005.
"It just kept growing," Mike Sullivan said. "This year we had about 50 people here."
And every year, without fail, Mike Sullivan says they see a dolphin in the waters between Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key.
"The first time, Mike reached down to get something just as a dolphin came up," said Helene Sullivan, laughing. "And I said, 'Oh, you missed it!' But we've both seen one every year since then."
Denise Corse, who along with her husband, Ralph, was one of the first couples to join the Sullivans, made ornaments to give out to attendees this year and hang on the 7-foot tree the couples had put into the sand. When the party started at 9:30 a.m. Christmas morning the tree was covered in shell ornaments, but by the time the party was winding down at 2 p.m. they were nearly gone.
The Sullivans also had candles and coasters to give out to some friends.
"We saw these candles, and look, the scent is called Christmas at the Beach," Mike Sullivan said. "It was too perfect."
Mike Sullivan said they'd had people from as far as London and Germany stop by to see what the group was doing on the beach, adorned in Santa hats, having soft drinks and looking for dolphins.
"The more the merrier is what we always say," Mike Sullivan said.
This year, the group closed out the day with a twist on the song "Jingle Bells."
"Jingle shells, jingle shells, jingle all the way," they sang. "Oh what fun it is to be at the beach on Christmas Day!"