Tips For Enjoying Christmas In The Caribbean

I love cruising.   I love Christmas.   But somehow amidst the palm trees and aqua clear water, it just never quite feels like Christmas.  Especially since there’s absolutely no possibility of snow for a White Christmas.  Christmas tradition for me includes seeing my breath, feeling the chill while we’re out cutting down the tree, carols in the air and Christmas cookies baking in the oven and if we’re lucky, building a snowman after opening Christmas presents Christmas morning.  But in the tropics, and even in SW Florida, a chill in the air is a rare occurrence.  And other than Christmas-time, that’s why Commuter Cruisers travel to the far ends of the world in search of warm winter weather!  🙂

Aboard Winterlude, we have a small Christmas tree and a few decorations, but no lights since our electrical capacity can barely keep up with what we need,  let alone frivolous Christmas lights (can’t you just hear my amp ogre husband, David?)  🙂 Plus storage is at a premium on a boat planning to be living at anchor away from “civilization” for six months.    So there’s a tiny Nativity Scene to go by the tiny tree and Christmas carols playing softly in the background.  Baking Christmas cookies always helps.  Distributing them to other boats helps keep me from eating them all!

Christmas Morning in French Cay Harbor, Roatan

Christmas Morning in French Cay Harbor, Roatan

The second Christmas we spent aboard Winterlude was in French Cay Harbor, Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras.  It was literally 10 days after we’d been robbed in Utila (click here to read the post), the usual port of entry or exit for boats headed to or from the Rio Dulce, Guatemala.   Luckily for us, we were able to buy a new laptop in mainland LaCeiba, Honduras to run our electronic charts.   A cruising friend’s family visiting for Christmas volunteered to let us ship stuff to her house and brought me a new camera.  But still somehow we just weren’t in the holiday spirit.

Cruising reality demands that we recognize that while crime is minimal, the holidays and the obvious income advantage even the most frugal cruisers have makes us a target for petty thievery.  Most islanders would love to be able to give their children something for Christmas and if that means stealing something from you to sell and get money so their family can have a nice meal and a few small toys for the kiddos, so be it.  I almost can’t even blame them.

We’ve found one way that invariably feels like Christmas … even in the Caribbean.  Doing something for others less fortunate.  I’m a big believer in the “pay it forward” principle.

So we stock small toys, games, books — the corner settee locker is crammed full of give-aways, rarely, if ever, sweets.   Christmas time is an especially nice time to give away “stuff”.     I hate it that I’m always suspicious every time a fisherman stops by the boat asking for money.   We tend to shy away from giving out cash — it’s sad but I’m afraid the money might not go to help the family enjoy the holidays anyway.

Little Boys Love Little Cars and Airplanes

Little Boys Love Little Cars and Airplanes

If I give them small toys for the kiddos, I’m pretty sure some child will receive a present for Christmas, even if it’s miniscule.  We’ve also given away canned food.  And if someone paddles up trying to genuinely make money — asking to wash or wax the boat, asking us to buy their fish, or whatever, we generally try to buy something.  And then ask if they have children and give them a couple of things from our “stash”.    Favorite items for the little boys seem to be little “Matchbook” type cars or, even better, small “Matchbook” type airplanes – preferably F-16’s or whatever military fighter jet.  One year I found a bunch of little “pull-back” cars – those were a hit.  Favorites for the little girls, books (in Spanish or a combination of Spanish/English), hair doo-dads, sunglasses, coloring books.   And everyone loves bubbles.   Sometimes it was obvious they didn’t know what to do with the bottle, so David would demonstrate.  He’s also taught little boys to play frisbee, that was a big hit too!

Consider volunteering for whatever needs done in the community where you happen to be anchored around Christmas time.  We’ve had friends serve soup, help build or paint a school, assist in medical and dental volunteer clinics.  There are always opportunities to help, if you look for them.

Another fun thing to do, is to visit a local church for a Christmas service.  You’ll invariably be welcomed and enjoy the experience and the culture, even if you don’t understand the language!    Smiles and the Spirit of Christmas are understood in any language.

Whatever you do, remind yourselves that Christmas has very little to do with Christmas decorations, commercialism and frivolity and appreciate how lucky we are to be invited into other cultures to share their Christmas season.

Feliz Navidad!    Jan & David







photos of decorations


  1. That’s great you can put yourself in their shoes, and understand why they might be driven to steal. Now think about this, put yourself in my shoes, I’ve been working my ass off for 13 years trying to get out there cruising, had lots and LOTS of ISSUES come up. Now when I do make it out there, I truly dare someone try to take away from me what I’ve worked so hard so long for, and I do carry a gun, and I will use it. Like I say, its great to be compassionate and understanding, we need more of that. Just don’t stop at the first perspective you realize. Thanks, Kb

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