As a child, I was always a little confused as to why the Father Christmas I met on Christmas Eve always smelt faintly of milk…he was of course the milkman on my grandfather’s estate. Mind you, this is not as confusing as my children growing up in the Bahamas, with a black Father Christmas, only to discover elsewhere in the world there were white imposters scattered about the place.
Our Christmas in the tropics might be a blend of two strong cultures, but it’s consistent in its traditions.
Our tree is a real fir that travels by boat and is very thirsty by the time it finally settles in our Bahamian sitting room. We decorate it together as a family. There are quite a few arguments about the balance of the lights, the placement of the ornaments, and who will put the fairy on the top. We have collected over the years Mr. and Mrs. Claus from Haiti, a red double decker bus from London, a weird little rainbow fish, and a sugar cookie in the shape of the star made by one of the teenage boys when he was tiny. It’s terrifically stale now, but every year it reappears on a branch of the tree.
On Christmas Eve, we gather around the fireplace, which we light, even if it’s boiling hot, just so we feel English-y and Christmas-y. We hang the stockings, which were made for each of my children by my mother’s dressmaker, with their names stitched on in bold lettering.
At 10 p.m., David and I go to Midnight Mass. Yes, you read that correctly – ten o’clock is Midnight Mass. Rissy, who has been part of our family since we moved to the island, sings in the choir or hands out the service sheets. Either way, it’s an important role and we go to support her, although I hope God notices too.
After church, David and I stuff the stockings – it’s always late, I’m always over tired, bits of sellotape peel off, presents get muddled up – but I’m also excited for the morning. I love Christmas.
Domino will be up first. She will wake her brothers, thrilled that Father Christmas found us. Five kids, two cats, a few dogs and the stockings pile onto our bedroom and the chaos begins.
The greatest present I am given every year is the gift of Claire, our Top Banana, as she cooks the turkey and all the traditional trimmings that go with it.
I lay the table, normally under the palm trees in the garden. Each year we change it up a little, dried fruit and palm fronds, blue and white ceramic vases filled with oranges, branches of fir and pine cones, tartan table cloth and, this year, IH crested napkins. We always use the pretty ceramic plates David once gave me; they have charming Christmas trees painted on them.
We always have Christmas crackers, we always wear the paper hats, blow the plastic whistles and tell the silly jokes. We always set the plum pudding on fire – we can never find the matches to light it and we always have too much brandy in the brandy butter.
We try most years to slip away at some point to the church yard to say a quick hello to Wesley’s mama, buried peacefully there. We don’t want her to be alone.
Before the day ends, I will call my own Mama, in England, who will be with my brother and sister and their families. I miss them. A lot. But I am thankful for the love of our own family and the friends gathered there with us celebrating Christmas in The Bahamas.