As a native of the northern hemisphere, growing up somewhere in Western Europe – the 51st parallel to be precise – Christmas resembled cold and cozy days, with a human-sized fir tree indoors and small gifts underneath the branches. Every year, I hoped for a fairytale ‘white Christmas’, but all that ever fell were the needles of the Christmas tree and random snowflakes, melting by the time they reached the ground. My husband Mark, who’s from New England, had plenty of white Christmases. Once we became full time cruisers, cold winters were – happily – a thing of the past.
Five years of cruising in the Caribbean on our 35ft catamaran Irie created many unforgettable Christmases. While it started out with a very sad one in Puerto Rico, when our sweet dog Kali died and we cried watching the New Year’s Eve fireworks in St. Thomas, the subsequent years could only be better. In 2009, Mark and I were treated to spectacular views and an amazing sunset in St. Pierre, Martinique. We appreciated the sights on shore in total peace, because everyone else was celebrating Christmas at home. Towards the end of 2011, Irie had brought us to Cholon, Colombia, where an expat couple put a Christmas potluck together for all the cruisers in the harbor. On Christmas morning, some boaters sang Christmas carols from their dinghies, while the afternoon was spent on land, celebrating the event in style.
By New Year’s Eve, Mark and I had reached the San Blas islands in Panama and hoped for a cultural experience with the Kuna Indians. As the only foreigners, we had been invited to the congreso, a big wooden hut with a thatched roof. When, four hours later, the sahila (chief) was still singing in a monotonous voice, the Indians all looked bored, and our tummies were rumbling, we returned home disappointed to make a quick dinner before diving into our bunk.
In 2012, Mark and I created a culinary Christmas feast for two onboard, with eggs Benedict for brunch and a delicious plate of turkey, roasted pumpkin, mashed potatoes and heaps of stuffing for dinner. New Year’s Eve was done ‘right’ that year. A Kuna family had invited a group of sailors to their compound, where we ate yummy food and witnessed the traditional burning of a doll representing a Panamanian, responsible for the revolution, won by the Kunas in 1925.
Our most memorable Caribbean Christmas happened in 2010, in Bequia. Mark and I organized a party on Irie, where good friends Rosie and Sim of Alianna (now Wandering Star) added to the number of dishes we made, while Dave of Tatia was in charge of decorations. Dave had taken this job very seriously and showed up with boat-made popcorn garlands and paper snowflakes. We had an amazing night together, followed by an equally as joyous New Year’s Eve. More friends gathered on Irie and after a delicious food fest, we put our creative selves into action … A contest emerged, in which everyone tried to design cool paper objects, resulting in a paper sailboat race underneath our catamaran. Reggae music and Caribbean cocktails kept us all very merry and the day concluded with spectacular Bequia fireworks.
This winter, I am looking at my cherished Caribbean Christmas tree. It was a gift from Rosie that brought people together on Irie for an additional two Christmases in the South Pacific.
While recalling these unique Caribbean Christmas memories, I am cuddled up in New England, guaranteed of a white Christmas and a hidden bikini…