Christmas in the Virgin Islands
Ahoy! And Happy Holidays!
Anyone out there dreaming of a white Christmas … as in white sand, a little sea foam, a conch shell or two??? If you’ve never tried celebrating the Christmas holidays in the Virgin Islands before, you’re in for a treat. There’s certainly no lack of festivity, whether you’re on shore or out to sea. All the typical trimmings, plus some unique Caribbean touches, are sure to cast a merry spell upon your vacation this time of year. Here’s a look at what to expect.
Lights, Camera, Action!
Just as you’d find stateside, there’s an abundance of colorful lights strung everywhere – palm trees, bars & restaurants, shops, and even on boats. There’s also no shortage of Santas wandering about but you probably won’t see any sleighs. The big man arrives via boat in the Virgin Islands – though I’ve heard the wild donkeys on St. John would love to help out should he need some extra “horsepower.” And just in case you’re wondering, Santa is more likely searching for a glass of rum than a tumbler of milk as he delivers presents.
Music is always in ample supply this time of year, so check the local papers and bulletin boards for choir concerts, open-air parties and where the local steel pan bands are performing. As most of these delightful performances are free, feel free to take a seat, relax and melt into the holiday rhythms that are sure to transform even the grumpiest of Scrooges into a cheerful character.
Take A Hike!
Make the time to wander over to St. John where you can explore numerous hiking trails, most of which are part of the island’s massive National Park system that stretches from one shore to the other. The exercise will do you good and the views will surely impress. You might even be surprised to learn that Christmas is woven into the natural landscape.
Christmas Palms (Veitchia merrillii) with their bright red berry-like fruits that typically mature in late December can be spotted throughout the Virgin Islands. They’re just another red and green natural decoration to admire.
Look but don’t touch the Christmas Bush (Comocladia dodonaea) which is a flowering plant in the cashew family that is also known as “Poison Ash.” Capable of producing a rash similar to poison ivy, this plant is native to the Caribbean and South America. Its leaves, which turn red with age, are divided into opposite pairs of leaflets that have toothy or spiny edges. The sepals are also red and the corollas are red or purple. But keep your distance; otherwise your Christmas joy will be buried under a layer of calamine lotion!
Food and drinks are part of any Virgin Island Christmas, just as they are everywhere else. While eggnog and mulled wine may be popular stateside, the Virgin Islands have their own traditional drinks to toast the holidays. So raise your glasses and say, “Cheers!”
The first traditional drink is Coquito, a tropical eggnog-like cocktail full of rum (No surprise!) as well as milk, cinnamon and coconut. While the history of Coquito varies from one bartender to another, the general consensus is that it came to the Virgin Islands from Puerto Rico, where each family has its own recipe. Some prefer the traditional frosty coconut version, while others elevate the drink by adding strawberries and cocoa. Some actually add eggs to the recipe to make it thicker, while many do not. If rum isn’t your ideal pour (said no one from the islands!), substitute tequila. Whatever version you prefer, the drink is sure to complement those relaxing hours spent in the sun as you inhale those balmy breezes and wade in and out of aqua-infused waters.
For a basic recipe of Coquito, combine the following in a blender and then pour into a glass container before storing it in the refrigerator. Shake well before serving. Then drink as needed.
One cup white rum
1 can coconut cream
1 can coconut milk
1 can evaporated milk
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
⅓ cup shredded coconut (optional)
The second traditional Christmas drink is Guavaberry Rum, which is also produced by using family recipes, so each batch may taste slightly differently. The late Virgin Islands’ composer, Bill La Motta, actually wrote a song about this favorite libation that’s simply known as the Guavaberry Song. It goes: “Good Mornin, Good Mornin, ah come fo’ me Guavaberry; Good Mornin, Good Mornin to you and all your family.”
The tradition of making guavaberry rum began centuries ago by mixing together local guavaberries, rum, and sugar. This liquor’s fruity, spicy, and bitter yet sweet taste is quite unique and specific to this region of the Caribbean. Typically, batches of the rum are made weeks before Christmas and some are even stored for the following year’s holiday celebrations.
While the tradition of caroling from home to home and enjoying a snack and drink of Guavaberry rum at each stop has slowly faded, there still exists a bit of rivalry among families concerning who makes and serves the best batches of the drink during the Christmas holidays. Of course, the only way to find out is to sample as much as possible … so bottoms up!
Set Sail for Christmas Cove
Any Christmas vacation spent in the Virgin Islands would be incomplete without a trip to … where else, but Christmas Cove. Stormy Pirates Charters is very familiar with this famous cove as their clients love this sparkling, magical snorkeling destination that’s nestled between St. John and Great St. James Island. It’s definitely something to put on your Christmas list.
This protected cove supposedly got its name when Christopher Columbus made his second voyage to the New World in 1493. As a bad storm approached, Columbus took shelter in this very spot; then awoke on Christmas morning to an expanse of blue skies and calm waters. Ever since, the area has been known as Christmas Cove. Today, it’s the perfect place to explore all of the beautiful coral reefs that are protected from wind and surf.
The cove is only accessible by boat, so make your plans early as most charters fill up quickly, especially during the holidays. While there, take advantage of Pizza Pi, a pizza delivery service that serves up hot, fresh slices directly to your boat. Sounds like the perfect after-holiday treat.
Take In The Sights
While there’s no lack of beautiful mountains, waters or wildlife to stare at during your trip to the Virgin islands, there’s also the added bonus at Christmas time of gawking at yachts – from the smallest versions to the grandest. It seems every billionaire heads to the waters offshore of St. Thomas and St. John.
Recently, none other than Jeff Bezos’ super yacht, Koru, was docked at Yacht Haven Gránde Marina on St. Thomas. Considered the largest sailing vessel in the world, the 417-ft vessel is rumored to be worth $500-million dollars. Next to his yacht, you’ll typically find Bezos’ “toy hauler,” Abeona, which is used for helicopter landings, as well as storage for all the other boats and toys that don’t fit on his super yacht. (Definitely worth peeking at if you get the chance!)
What To Pack
While you can find a list of essential clothing and accessory items on our blog titled: What To Pack – The Essential List, the following is a reminder that having a fabulous holiday vacation is as much about your mental frame of mind as it is about the weather and list of daily activities. So, make room in your suitcase – and your expectations – for:
Plenty of patience – According to AAA, this holiday period will be the busiest of the century. Lines will be long; reservations will be full. Take a moment to remind yourself that everyone is working hard to make your vacation special, but not everything will run as smoothly or as fast as you hope it will. This is the busiest time of the year, for the most popular places on the island.
Smiles – Be generous with your smiles as friendliness goes a long way when meeting strangers and dealing with crowds of people. Don’t forget to great everyone with a friendly “Good Morning, Good Day or Good Night”
Gratitude – When everything feels like it’s running off the rails, remind yourself that you’re fortunate enough to be in a warm, sunny locale, instead of buried under a foot of snow, not to mention that many of the islands residents are service industry workers and have given up time with their families to make your holiday vacation as special as possible. Tip Generously!!
Adventure – Bring along a sense of curiosity and try something new. Go ahead, climb those mountains, rent a paddleboard, or order some local cuisine you’ve never tasted before. Be playful about expanding your comfort zones – you might just discover something that totally rocks your world in a good way.
Idle time – Some of the best things about the Virgin Islands are free – sunshine, colorful hillsides, crystal-clear water, and refreshing breezes – but you can’t enjoy them unless you SLOW DOWN. Take some time every day to sit and do nothing but smell the hibiscus, sip that rum punch, and listen to the waves rolling on shore. Don’t go home more tired and stressed out than when you arrived
End Notes: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone! As we start another busy season, we encourage you to visit our website to check out the new additions to our fleet and the numerous options we offer for charters. Our greatest joy is getting to know so many wonderful people from so many different places. If we don’t get to see you this holiday season, please visit us when you come again. As always, we invite you to share this blog with your friends and to book a boat day with Stormy Pirates Charters – we’ll put the gang plank down and escort you in style.