Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Christmas in the Tropics
This year we celebrated Thanksgiving in California.. We came back home to Georgia just for a few days then departed again for the Caribbean, West Indies and Bahamas. I caught a cold in Nassau and upon arriving back in the US last Saturday it had turned into a bad cold. I have been staying in bed for the last four days with my nose stuffed up, eyes running, and sore throat. Reading some Agatha Christie’s mysteries have helped as well as listening to light Operettas like the Der Zigeunerbaron (Gypsy Baron) and Die Fledermaus (The Bat) of Johann Strauss, II. Although with the coughing fits and weakness I sound more like Mimi from Puccini’s opera La Bohème! It’s not a pretty picture, but I found a nice sneezing vintage lady and placed her in a cute holly frame to give her a more holiday flair.
While on our trip I thought I would take as many pictures of holiday decorations as I could find and publish them in a post upon my return. Well, that has been very difficult to almost impossible. The Christmas Season being so important in the US, and the country so large, one comes to believe that other countries celebrate it just as much – it is not so. Growing up in France I loved Papa Noël and the presents he brought. Then as a teenager I enjoyed celebrating Christmas in London a lot more because there was a lot more partying than at home. But I still was very surprised at the extent of the celebrations in the US, where it is celebrated the most in the world. I did find some decorations in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but this is still the US.
I tried to find if there were Christmas Traditions peculiar to the Caribbean. Many Caribbean Islands’ economies come from tourism and since most of the tourists come from North America, there has been an Americanization of Caribbean Christmas celebrations. There are festivals and parades at that time but also great local food, drink and regional music. In our two week trip I saw only two “Christmas Tree” in individual’s front yards – a small palm tree and a green shrub. That is all. I was riding in a van and could not take clear pictures of them. I did find one lamp post decorated in St Martin (the French side of St Maarten Island.)
In some grocery stores one could find imported Christmas candies, mostly from England and the US. Santa Claus, not indigenous in origin from the Caribbean was only present in the tourist malls. Because of the influx of tourists during the Holiday Season Christmas is celebrated there by Christians and non-Christians alike as a special holiday with non-religious aspects - well, many tourists are not religious… I was told, in Nassau, that there are many branches in the Rastafarian religion there – some even celebrate Christmas – but on January 7th as other members of the Christian Orthodox religion. In a bakery in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, I did find some holiday decorations, behind the counter.
The weather was quite warm. Walking in 90 degree temperature (32 C) it was easy to forget the Holiday Season as depicted in Western countries with Santa and the snow. Even luxury malls devoted to tourists had very little decorations. On purpose I walked in the main street of Philipsburg, the Dutch side of St Maarten, which is a shopping Mecca. But it was slim picking.
But then, in an alley – success – there it was – a Christmas tree!
If we had been in luxury hotels or restaurants I think I would have found more Christmas decorations, but we did not. So, in conclusion, if someone wants to get away from the heavy commercialization of Christmas, coming to the West Indies, the Caribbean Islands or the Bahamas close to that time is a good idea. It’s always a surprise to see a Christmas theme decoration under a vibrant sun – even in Florida for that matter (like the photo at the top of this post.)
Here in the US, it is easy to forget that not everyone celebrates Christmas in the same way. Just typing “True origins of Christmas” or “Real History of Christmas” in Google or Yahoo bring thousands of answers, like in the link here .
Some Christian groups are offended by the secular nature that Christmas is now taking and say that its religious meaning should be brought back. Other groups states that the roots of Christmas came from ancient pagan festivals, thousands of years old, and not Christianity. These festivals were celebrated on December 25 as the birthday of the invincible sun. They claim that in 320 AD when Roman Catholic Pope Julius I declared that the 25th of December would be the official date of the birth of Jesus Christ - to absorb and Christianize the Yule celebrations - he took over their ancient holiday but they still have the right to celebrate it. Then there are other Christian churches like the 7th Day Adventist, and some branches of the Mennonite and Amish churches that forbid the celebration as not being Christian, just a pagan cross-over. Whether religious, secular, pagan or simply non-religious I think Christmas is a great time for joy and a spirit of giving, sharing, and peace.
I could not find in my postcard collection a “tropical” type Christmas card, but here is a vintage card without the snow.
Joyeux Noël to all!