Six tropical destinations that offer a different twist on the holiday season
If your idea of a white Christmas involves ivory colored sands, accented by palm tree green and ocean blues, then you need to head for the tropics, where islanders celebrate the holiday season in unique ways that combine familiar traditions with elements of the local culture and setting. To help you start planning, here are six idyllic destinations where you can experience Christmas island style.
Christmas is a big event in Hawaii, but they do things island style. Santa sheds his polar garb in favor of board shorts and an Aloha shirt, and trades his sleigh in for an outrigger canoe pulled by dolphins. Locals decorate palm trees with lights and sing carols in the Hawaiian language accompanied by ukulele, but they also cue up for the arrival of the Christmas ships that bring more traditional pines from the mainland. You may see locals adding a Santa hat to their swimsuits, and call out “Mele Kalikimaka” as they head to the beach. Christmas dinner is served luau-style, with a roast pig as the centerpiece. The best place to catch all the tropical traditions of the season is at Waikiki Beach, with a stay at the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort, where the trees are decorated with tiny flip flops and surfboards, and hula performers replace Christmas carolers. This is also where Santa paddles his outrigger canoe ashore each year to have breakfast with hotel guests.
Forget the twelve days of Christmas. On the island of St. Kitts, the holiday season lasts from late November through the first of January. This is the time of the Sugar Mas, an island-wide celebration that combines elements of Carnival with English Yuletide traditions. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, streets are filled with a series of colorful parades and processions. Clowns, stilt-walking moko jumbies and troupes of street performers dance to the rhythms of soca and calypso music, while pageant contestants showcase elaborate costumes. Christmas provides a brief respite as families and friends gather for special holiday meals, then the party returns with J’ouvert, when costumed dancers fill the streets of Basseterre on Boxing Day. The six-week celebration culminates with the Grand Parade on January first. All are welcome at these street parties, but guests who want to mix revelry with relaxation might want to choose a quieter setting for their home base. A favorite is Belle Monte Farm, where cottages sit within a 400-acre farm on the foothills of Mount Liamuiga. This setting provides an authentic sense of local culture, while also reward palates with exceptional dining opportunities.
In the Islands of Fiji, the Christmas season is about family, fellowship and food. Beginning several weeks before Christmas Day, homes are decorated with candles, lamps and ribbons, and entire communities come together to sing and perform traditional dances. Christmas Eve is the time for traditional lovo feasts, and a special holiday dish is palusami, which is spiced mutton wrapped in leaves and cooked in coconut cream. On Christmas Day, most islanders head to church in the morning, then head to the beach for more food and fellowship. The best ways for visitors to tap into the community spirit is with a stay at a small property such as Navini Island Resort, which is located on a small coral cay near Malolo Island, and accommodates just 20 guests in ten traditional villas. On Christmas morning, the staff begins Christmas Day by singing carols outside of guest villas, and all are invited to partake in a Christmas service. In the evening, the kitchen also serves a traditional western Christmas dinner complete with plum pudding.
In the two weeks leading up to Christmas, the island of Bora Bora is humming with preparations. The town of Vaitape becomes the site of Le Village de Noel—the Christmas Fair. Here on the town’s central square, vendors set up stalls that offer a wide variety of local products that includes shell and mother of pearl jewelry to hand-made clothing, colorful pottery and traditional musical instruments. The market overflows with local fruits and flowers, and crowds browse to the sounds of ukuleles and guitar music. An island-wide party takes place on the Saturday before Christmas, beginning with a parade of colorful floats, followed by a night of dancing and dining from ‘roulottes‘, the island’s iconic mobile restaurants. On Sunday, crowds gather once again for Christmas caroling, with performances from island choirs. Visitors can complement these public events with a private holiday celebration at the Four Seasons Resort, where the first class festive package begins with an arrival by private chartered jet and a stay at a premier over-water bungalow. Participants are treated to a special five- course dinner on Christmas Eve, and an even more sumptuous nine-course New Year’s Eve feast, followed by fireworks on the beach.
On an island where Caribbean and British cultures blend with seamless ease, holiday traditions dating from the old country still hold sway. Radio stations play traditional carols, homes and businesses are decorated in festive arrays, downtown Bridgetown glows under red and green holiday lights, and even the traffic roundabouts are transformed to depict Christmas themes. Locals don their seasonal best to attend the annual Christmas morning service at Queen’s Park, with music performed by the Royal Barbados Police Force Band. Christmas dinner is another cherished tradition, and centerpieces of this meal are great cake, jug-jug and clove-studded ham. Jug-jug is a traditional dish inspired by the Scottish dish known as haggis. The Barbados version is made with pigeon peas, guinea corn flour, herbs and salted meat. Great cake is a seasonal favorite made with dried fruits and generous quantities of liquor. Visitors can sample this traditional fare on the Christmas day luncheon at The Crane. This landmark hotel embraces the spirit of the season with lights, nightly caroling and special holiday menus.
The town of Key West lights up for the Christmas season—literally. There is the lighted boat parade, the lighted bicycle parade, the City Lights tour aboard the Old Town Trolley, and the Harbor Walk of Lights, featuring whimsical Christmas trees created from lobster traps, fishing floats and other nautical paraphernalia. Organized walking tours of the historic district visit festively lit inns and take in private homes decked out for the season. And not all the events are visual, as there are also performances of Christmas music, The Nutcracker Ballet, Handel’s Messiah, and more. And as expected from a town that loves its parties, Christmas celebrations meld into the island’s legendary New Year’s pageants and parades. Most festivities take place in the downtown district centered around Duval Street. The best place to stay for a Key West Christmas is the Pier House. Here, guests can enjoy a private swath of beach and spectacular sunsets yet are just a few blocks away from the action.