While winter chills lead indulgent thoughts southward, unique celebrations of Florida’s rich cultural history and heritage justifies visiting the state for a rare blend of education, fun and sun. Florida’s warm weather throughout the year makes it the perfect destination to escape from cold temperatures and mundane activities. A variety of Florida’s popular cultural and literary festivals take place during the first quarter of the year when record lows plague most of the country.

One of Florida’s most notable literary festivals kicked off in Eatonville, just six miles north of Orlando, on Jan. 22. The Zora! Festival, held annually for more than 20 years, combines literature, art, fashion, music and culture with warmer weather, sunshine and a variety of other nearby activities. Author Zora Neale Hurston, namesake of the popular literary festival, was enamored with her hometown of Eatonville, the oldest incorporated African-American municipality in the United States. Offerings at the festival include a new children’s play zone featuring an area with activities for children ranging from infant to five years old.

D.C. metro area residents can enjoy a pre-travel treat to get into the spirit of the festival by a visit to Eatonville restaurant – the Washington, D.C. eatery named for Hurston’s hometown. Eatonville restaurant hosts “Food and Folklore,” a monthly series intertwining storytelling with cuisine. January’s “Food and Folklore” took place Jan. 23 and featured special guest Lucy Anne Hurston, Zora’s niece. Zora Hurston’s work was out of print for a time, but at age 9, Lucy discovered a copy of Their Eyes Were Watching God in her family’s attic and eventually worked to establish the Zora Neale Hurston Trust.

Hurston began her writing career during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, when African- American artists explored, celebrated and publicized their heritage. Her career piqued in the 1930s with the publication of Their Eyes Were Watching God, a novel she wrote in seven weeks. The folk tales she collected and short stories and novels she published would eventually alter the landscape of literature throughout the United States and in other parts of the world.

Hurston gathered insight for her works by traveling throughout the United States and the Caribbean, including visits to Jamaica, Haiti, Honduras and other islands. She collected oral tales from the varied African-American communities.

The Zora! Festival features concerts, plays, seminars, discussion panels, tours, food, arts and crafts, and many other African-American inspired exhibits.

For more information, go to VISITFLORIDA.COM.