I’m Dreaming of a White (Sand) Christmas

A lot of people enjoy the snowy look of a white Christmas. But if it were up to me, I’d never see snow except on TV.

I’ve heard people say they can’t get into the holiday spirit if it’s warm outside or there’s no snow, but that’s not how I feel. I lived in South Florida for several years and loved prancing around in shorts in December while putting up my Christmas tree and listening to Burl Ives belt out “Holly Jolly Christmas.” During that time, once each Christmas season I would crank up the air conditioning, wrap in a big fuzzy blankie, and curl up with a hot cocoa to watch Christmas movies. That was all the cold fix I’d need, then would go back to frolicking in the warmth.

It’s been a few years since I experienced a warm holiday season, so when I traveled to balmy Aruba and saw all the decorations and felt the holiday cheer I became elated. Like the Grinch, my heart grew three sizes that day!

The hotel was decked out in lavish holiday decorations. It connects to a mall with high end stores. There’s nothing like seeing a gigantic Christmas tree in the middle of an open-air mall, while feeling the unusual combination of air conditioning on your face and steamy heat on your back. Maybe the only unusual thing about it was how much I enjoyed it.Renaissance Mall Christmas tree

Sometimes traditionally cold weather holidays in warm climates can get a little mind bending for those of us who spend most of our lives in cold climates. Like when you’re working up a sweat walking down the street in Oranjestad and see people in shorts buying Christmas trees… while surrounded by palm trees.Christmas trees aruba

Or when there’s a talking, moving, really weird looking Santa at the door of a t-shirt and flip flop shop.Creepy moving Santa in a store

Or the nativity scene is surrounded by palm trees.

Nativity in Oranjestad, Aruba

The lights were all hung on the palms with great care, in hopes that Sinterklaas soon would be there!

Christmas lights in Oranjestad

That’s right, I managed to be in Aruba for St. Nicholas Day, when Dutch tradition says Sinterklaas arrives by boat to leave treats in good children’s shoes. I was told a man dressed as Sinterklaas would make his way around the island with helpers, and I became obsessed with finding him and watching him spread the joy. OK, obsessed is an understatement. Lo and behold, the rascal was eating breakfast at the restaurant right next to mine when I was scarfing those delicious egg nog poffertjes! I didn’t want to barge into the restaurant and interrupt his breakfast, especially while a little girl was talking to him, but I was happy just having caught a glimpse of jolly St. Nick.

Here’s something unusual I noticed about Sinterklaas’ helpers: they’re in blackface. I found it rather jarring to see very white Dutch men with dark brown or black paint on their faces, but locals (non-white locals, might I add) explained to us that it was Dutch tradition. Folklore indicates that Sinterklaas has a helper-slave who is a moor from Spain, named Zwarte Piet (Black Peter).

Zwarte Piet (photo via Wikipedia)

Zwarte Piet (photo via Wikipedia)

The Zwarte Piet character has created a lot of controversy in recent years for being racist, and people in the islands and in Europe have protested against keeping this aspect of the tradition. I have to say, I dig the whole Sinterklaas coming by boat tradition, but I can do without white people painting their faces black while dressed like jesters. It actually made me uncomfortable and I felt embarrassed seeing it, especially when surrounded by the large population of non-white people on the island. It was quite the learning experience, to say the least.

After a day of learning about and chasing Sinterklaas, sipping beers at The Paddock on the Oranjestad waterfront and watching the sunset (in 85 degree weather) while surrounded by tiny Christmas trees really does not suck. OK, it downright rocks. C’mon people, do you really need cold weather with all this festive atmosphere?Sunset at The Paddock in Oranjestad

Holiday spirit is a mindset. Humans tend to become set in their ways and have trouble breaking out of routines ingrained since childhood. I believe that’s why many Americans need cold weather to get in the spirit. But I prefer to think outside the box. I do love a cold, white Christmas… but let’s make that white sand… with a cold rum punch on the side.

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