How to Maintain Winter Holiday Vibes in a Tropical Climate

Bloggers and Instagram influencers Amy West and Katie Vail share their methods for keeping their warm-weather homes nice and cozy for the holiday season.

Just because one opts to live in a tropical climate doesn’t mean they can’t get all of the winter holiday vibes. Just ask Amy West and Katie Vail.

West is the creator of the luxury lifestyle publication Amy West Travel and a longtime Jacksonville, Florida resident. Vail, a Hawaii resident, is the creator of the lifestyle blog Stripes & Whimsy. West and Vail may live in enviable locales that do not require heavy coats, but these bloggers and Instagram influencers know how to incorporate winter holiday elements into their homes.
Decorating for the winter holidays in a tropical climate is all “about creating that entire experience for all of your senses that says the holidays are here,” West said. “It’s about being together and being close and making traditions and memories that last a lifetime.”
West and her husband, a Tennessee native, live at the beach in a house West described as “cozy and cottage-y,” with their two daughters, ages 9 and 4. They tend to decorate the house to the kids’ tastes for the holidays. Last year, West and her husband made a bold holiday decoration move.
“We switched out last year and we started decorating with a white Christmas tree because we’re not in a heavily forested area so we weren’t all about having to have the epic evergreen,” she said. “We decided to go a little whimsical and thought it would be playful and fun for the kids. That’s been really exciting, to try something just a little different.”
West also enjoys decorating her home with “little vintage accents” and bubble lights, as they remind her of her own childhood. She believes there is a way to keep decor balanced and “elegant and fresh without it just looking like you went to the thrift store and set it all up.”
West’s Florida home also features a rare item for that part of the U.S.: a stone fireplace. West likes to hang up oversize, fuzzy gray and white fur stockings over her fireplace.
Of course, the sonics of a space are also crucial in order to bring in the holiday spirit. Preferred holiday music in the West household includes The Carpenters, old-school vintage Christmas music, Michael Bublé and pop music of the Mariah Carey and Ariana Grande persuasion.
As for Vail, the U.S. Army veteran started her blog in 2014 while working at the Pentagon. She lives in Hawaii with her husband and two children. She also has a third child on the way.
“Since we don’t get the physical feel of Christmas with the traditional cool weather, we have to be creative and kind of use the other senses,” Vail said.
The West Point graduate, whose husband is still active duty Army, noted that her family can’t go too overboard with holiday decor since space is at a premium in their Hawaiian apartment.
For this reason, they opt for a tall, skinny, pre-lit Christmas tree. They could opt for a real pine Christmas tree, as they are shipped out to Hawaii, but the warm weather is just not conducive to their upkeep, Vail said. This also applies to other green decor.
“We don’t use real greenery just because it will dry out, so I like to use a preserved boxwood wreath instead of the traditional fir wreath,” Vail said. “That way, you can also reuse it every year, but it’s still also a real wreath.”
When it comes to decorating their Christmas tree, the Vails opt for a mix of ornaments from places they’ve traveled to over the years, as well as Hawaiian ornaments of plumeria, hibiscus flowers, sea turtles and more.
“We merge Christmas with the Hawaii vibe,” said Vail, who also collected Christmas ornaments growing up.
Since there are no fireplaces in her Hawaiian home, Vail gets creative with her bookcase.
“We have a really tall bookcase and we use that as our mantel during the Christmas season,” Vail said. “We hang our stockings from it. I put tiny little nails about halfway up to have our stockings there all in a row.”
Mealtimes also get the Christmas treatment thanks to holiday-specific dishware.
“When we eat, every meal is on our Lenox holly china,” Vail said. “I think that’s a fun way to bring in the Christmas spirit.”
When it comes to scent, Vail described herself as a “sucker for the holiday-scented candles.” Truly, what are the winter holidays without the aroma of nutmeg and clove wafting down the hall, or the crisp airiness of an evergreen candle recalling a beloved Christmas morning from childhood? Vail also loves to get creative with lighting and ornamentation.
“Christmas is magical and I think that helps, especially in a warm climate,” she said. “I’ve collected a bunch of vintage Christmas ornaments—they’re the colorful pinks and reds and things like that—and then I’ll put them in a glass jar all together but then I’ll also weave in one of those little wire string lights. I’ll put that in there and that makes a really magical little globe that you can easily turn on and off.”
Vail also gets plenty of local inspiration. Every year, she loves to see the Royal Hawaiian Hotel located in Waikiki, also known as the Pink Palace of the Pacific, for inspiration.
“They go all out at Christmastime,” Vail said. “Every year it’s always a little bit different, so we always make a point to drive down to Waikiki and walk through the hotel to get a little inspiration.”
Bottom line: Life in the tropics doesn’t mean being deprived of true winter holiday vibes. By incorporating items into the home that play upon the senses, anyone can get the full winter holiday experience no matter where they live.