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!


Kay Dennison said...

I do so love the Caribbean and, as always, your photos are simply fabulous!!!

DJan said...

So sorry to hear about your cold. Nothing feels quite so terrible as a cold that won't leave you alone. Lovely post, as always, I smiled at the holly wreathed sneezer. :-)

OldLady Of The Hills said...

Oh Do Feel Better, Very Very Soon, My Dear....! It looks like you had a GREAT Get-Away Trip! And refreshing that there aren't as much Christmas Decorations as here in The States....
I am not a Christian, but I do love all the rituals of Christmas that everyone seemed to have when I was growing up in a Jewish home....The Tree, Santa, Gift Giving, and all the Lights and Decorations....I STILL do LOVE all of these things...!

wenn said...

Merry Christmas!

Carole Burant said...

My Christmas wish for you, my friend
Is not a simple one
For I wish you hope and joy and peace
Days filled with warmth and sun

I wish you love and friendship too
Throughout the coming year
Lots of laughter and happiness
To fill your world with cheer

May you count your blessings, one by one
And when totaled by the lot
May you find all you've been given
To be more than what you sought

May your journeys be short, your burdens light
May your spirit never grow old
May all your clouds have silver linings
And your rainbows pots of gold

I wish this all and so much more
May all your dreams come true
May you have a Merry Christmas friend
And a happy New Year, too .. xoxo

Ann said...

enjoyed your post and photos so much!!!
Wishing you Christmas Blessings!!!
may you be feeling better soon!

Sally Wessely said...

This was quite interesting. My kids just got back from the Bahamas. I will be interested to see what they thought of being there just before Christmas.

Get better soon. I'm sorry you've been sick.

A Merry Christmas to you.

Diane said...

Wonderful post. Joyeux Noël et bonne année. Diane

claude said...

Bonjour Vagabonde. Alors, revenue !
J'aimerais bien passer un Noël sous les tropiques, car même en décembre il fait chaud.
C'est facile d'attraper un rhume là-bas, il faut très chaud dehors et la clim dans les magasins ou les hôtels est un véritable ennemi.
J'ai fini mes torchons et les tiens ?
Je te souhaite un JOYEUX NOEL.
Dimanche de vais avoir tout mon petit monde.

Pondside said...

Merry Christmas, Vagabond! I hope that cold leaves you soon - even the vintage lady can't make a cold look like fun!

bayou said...

Dis Bonjour à Père Noël si tu le vois! Ici, c'est Saint Nicolas qui apporte les cadeaux aux enfants. My brother just went off for one month to spend holidays in St. Lucia, not the first time though - and they enjoy it far away from the German Christmas activities.
I love those palm tree stems covered in wee lights. I could do the same with our dixonia ;-). Oh, and I have been lucky enough to visit once Fort Lauderdale! Merci pour ton tour du monde.
Wishing you a wonderful festive season!

Jojo said...

Get well soon so that you can enjoy your celebrations of the season, whatever they may be.

Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane said...

That was fun to read. I remember Chrismas in the tropics when I lived in Indonesia and it just seemed strange, since I hail from Holland where it is definitely not tropical.

I now live in Moldova where they celebrate Christmas twice - the traditional Orthodox one on January 6, and the more "trendy" one on December 25 to follow in the steps of Western Europe (and the US, etc.)

But there is no great buying frenzy like you see in the US, thank the gods!

Craciun fericit (Merry Christmas) from Moldova

✿France✿ said...

je viens aussi te souhaiter de belles fêtes et un très beau NOËL
A bientôt

Filip Demuinck said...

Very nice pictures. Christmas in the tropics gives you a strange feeling> I had it in Thailand and Dubai. 30 degrees, chirstmas trees and santa claus on the beach.


Pat said...

We are led to believe that Prince Albert - Queen Victoria's beloved husband was responsible for the Christmas tree.
We have one branch of the family in France and one in Australia and both celebrate Christmas- with all the trimmings - as we have always done.
There is something special called 'the Christmas spirit' when goodness abounds and surpasses all differences imposed by religious strictures IMO.
Get well soon - if you are chesty prop yourself up with pillows - a soft shawl round your shoulders and remember the efficacy of ginger, lemon and honey.
Happy Christmas.

Mary said...

Happy Christmas and very best wishes for the coming New Year.

(Hope your little package arrived with your sub-Antarctic prize - I mailed it in Nov. prior to leaving for SE Asia).

Hugs dear - enjoy the season.

Unknown said...

Hope you're feeling better soon!
And your post as always if very informative and educational. Have a blessed Christmas!

Kenza said...

Sous les tropiques! Vraiment exotique les guirlandes lumineuses sur les palmiers...
Je te souhaite un Joyeux Noël et de très belles fêtes de fin d'année Vagabonde!
Bisous des jours de fête

Thérèse said...

Joyeux Noel en esperant que tout est rentre dans l'ordre et que le rhume n'est plus qu'un mauvais souvenirm remplace par tous les bons souvenirs de ce beau voyage.

Unknown said...

Magnifique reportage photos !!!
Je te souhaite un trés joyeux noel!!!
Je t'embrasse

CrazyCris said...

I hope your cold is better!

I've lived away from the US more than in it, but I still miss all the over-decorated houses. ;o)

When I lived in Belgium things felt more "Christmassy" than here in Spain because they decorated the city more... lots of Christmas lights and decorated Christmas trees in all the shops. And let's not forget the Christmas markets! :o)

If you want to explore some foreign Christmas traditions I have a few posts up that might interest you... on my traveling blog I've been remembering Christmas Markets:

And some Spanish traditions on my main blog:

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

I've spent dozens of Christmases in the islands and to me they are always so special. I know it seems strange to some people who love snow, but once you get used to the warm weather and the friendly people, it seems quite normal. I'm so sorry to hear you got a cold in Nassau. Hope you are better soon.

Joyeux Noël to you and your family.

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

I forgot to add "Happy Boxing Day" a little in advance. Frequently in the Caribbean it's a big holiday.

When we lived in the Bahamas, I really enjoyed the non-commercial aspect of Christmas and a lot of tourist came that time of year and brought their families for exactly that reason. It's a slower, much more old fashioned way to celebrate Christmas with your family sans the mall and all of the big sales events that lure you into shopping.

Olga said...

Christmas is near! May we all have a white ( tropical ? ) and festive Christmas!

Dianne said...

I love the lights on the trees
so pretty

I hope you're feeling better

Arti said...

Merry Christmas to you and yours, Vagabonde. I'm sure no matter from what perspective and background we've come, we all cherish peace, joy, and goodwill towards all. BTW, instead of a tropical Christmas, I've come across the Canadian artist Wm. Kurelek's A Northern Nativity, and found a moving video which I've posted today. Again, thank you for your visits in this year when we 'discover' each other. Enjoy your time with family and have a joyful holiday Season!

kyh said...

Joyeux Noël! How wonderful to celebrate Christmas in such a colourful place! :)

Ginnie said...

So, so sorry you've been under the weather, Vagabonde! I love that you found a vintage card of a lady sneezing. How perfect...and how YOU.

You don't want to get started with Astrid on the commercialization of Christmas here in the Netherlands! I have grown to appreciate the fact their Sinterklaasdag is on the 5th, totally separated from the 25th. DUH!

lori said...

Amusant de voir Noël ailleurs, très surprenant, mais original !
Je te souhaite une bonne fin d'année

Kay said...

I hope you're 100% recovered now. I'm hearing of a lot of bloggers who have caught some kind of illness this season. This looks just like the holidays in Hawaii.

Jeanie said...

I love seeing Christmas in other parts of the world, especially those so different from my own -- you wouldn't think, it's not that far. But yes, very different!

You may be amused to know my verification word for this post is "bandiod." Not quite band aid, but close enough to remind me of your cold and hope you are feeling better. (I find out mine was mild pneumonia. Hope yours doesn't go that way!). Safe travels to Nashville!

Pat said...

Lovely post and pictures. I, too, spent Christmas in a tropical setting....sunny, warm Florida. All too soon I am back in cold, snowy Michigan. The feelings are the same no matter what the climate. Happy New Year to you.

Jeanne said...

Love your vintage card collection. I have about 20 of them which were my mothers when she was a girl. Aren't they interesting?? Have a wonderful day

Anonymous said...

Eh bien, Vagabonde, quel travail tu t'es donné! Mais c'est magnifique! Tant tes récits, tes réflexions personnelles, que le choix de tes photos et tes goûts pour les excellents musiciens de Jazz.

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