It’s quiet out. And dark. The colourful street lights are up in each of the four villages of Saba, Chris Rea’s Driving Home for Christmas is playing, the tree is up, half hiding the presents underneath and the house smells of home-made cooking. It’s Christmas time (Cue: Band Aid).
Time for thick woolen socks and hot cocoa? Well, it is chilly. We put a blanket on our bed and I closed the bathroom window yesterday in the shower. Brrrr. My toddler twins prefer to keep their pj’s on nowadays instead of taking their pants off instantly. Fine with me, really. And I am wearing socks.
A Caribbean Christmas is different. We don’t hear the crunch of snow underfoot. Here, tree frogs are spiritedly singing, some shearwaters, or wedrigos, are shrilling through the dark night and I hear the flutter of moths’ wings. Most of us don’t have the smell of Christmas trees inside the home, unless we are okay with spending $100 for a real tree. I used to have principles about Christmas trees. Here we assemble ours faithfully every year after unwrapping it from cling foil. Maybe we have some pine incense lying around. Here the air isn’t crisp with cold, but still humid and the tip of my nose is red, but not numb with cold, rather still slightly sunburnt. The sun’s rays slant ever so slightly more horizontally, shining right through our front door into the kitchen after my two-year-old boy opens it and, squinting outside, overlooks the Caribbean Sea from our height of 400 metres (1300 ft). And ‘driving home for Christmas’ can be done in less than half an hour, no matter where on the island you find yourself.
We don’t go out shopping for Christmas gifts in malls or quaint shops. In the supermarkets you can listen to steelband versions of Christmas songs playing in shops or King Obstinate’s How will Santa get here? (Spoiler: “he have to borrow me neighbor donkey” or “fly LIAT or BWI”) on the local radio. We ordered our gifts online at least a month ago, before all the Christmas ads appeared. Some of them might be on time for New Year’s. Christmas time is a busy time after all for the shipping companies; one can never depend on packages arriving on time, but one can always hope for favourable winds.
We plan our Christmas dinners with family if we have this pleasure, or otherwise plan them with friends who feel like family on this rock we call home. The shops really try their best to stock up on traditional Christmas foods and ingredients. Boxing Day is spent having picnics outside, sharing all the left-over food with those present. But there is no Christmas dinner without a johnny cake on this island.
I don’t miss the Christmases in the Netherlands. Everybody on this island really does their best to get into the Christmas spirit. You should see the lights in Windwardside, they light up the clouds, if we have clouds. But for my kids, I would like for them to have that experience with family and the cold. Eventually. Right now I can’t imagine having to go shopping for all the warm clothes we’re going to need. And sticking my baby’s fingers in layer upon layer of long-sleeved rompers, vests, coats, hats and boots. Although I really do miss boots.
Right now I’m quite happy spending Christmas with my family of five, our fake tree and reggae and soca versions of Christmas classics. Driving home for Christmas really does take me home on this rock.