Snowflakes falling onto your eyelashes, ice-skating on frozen lakes, making giant snowmen, warming up by a toasty fireplace, the smell of Christmas trees and roasting pine nuts – all wonderful, traditional images associated with Christmas time. But the images that spring to my mind from winter break this year are a little more unorthodox, if equally stunning: lazing in the sunshine, walking by the shore of an endless blue expanse, making sandcastles, going fishing in ski boats. This is the alternative when one chooses to spend the December holidays on a tropical island in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
Christmas in the Seychelles is a special experience. The sun is almost always shining, sharing golden rays of warmth that are very welcome after the chilling Scottish winds. The air is light and salty. The ocean is always a clear blue, glittering in the daylight. Victoria (the world’s smallest capital city) is unusually busy, throngs of people moving down the single main street doing Christmas shopping in the numerous small shops dotting the sides of Revolution Avenue. By night, it lights up with a spectacular array of Christmas lights and illuminated trees scattered around the centre. It is a winter wonderland, minus the snow, freezing cold and genuine Christmas trees. Seychellois choose to replace them with the tropical version of the pine tree (they fall apart when you hang baubles, so sellotaped balloons are often the norm) or very accurate plastic versions. Family lunches at home leading up to the big day are replaced by barbecues at home, picnics on the beach or lunch on a boat. Door-to-door carolling is replaced by neighbours blasting local reggae tunes for all in the district to hear.
One thing that remains the same is alcohol consumption. Famous for local beer and rum, Seychellois love to party and drink. But pints at the pub are replaced by bottles on the beach, enjoying the sound of crashing waves and sultry evening breeze. Afternoons of snowball fights or skiing are exchanged with snorkelling or diving and cruises on a jet-ski. Sand angels stand in for snow angels. My Christmas Day was one that was bright and sunny. Christmas lunch involved a roast and lots of wine, but also Seybrew lager, Takamaka coconut rum and barbecue ribs. Kitted out in red (although t-shirts rather than jumpers) and wearing Santa hats, we enjoyed a hearty meal (although the wearing of the Santa hat manages to last only a third of the duration of the lunch given the discomfort suffered as a result of wearing headgear in the afternoon sun).
The sun glitters in the distance and birds chirp all around, picking at fallen mangoes in the garden. In the evening after the exhaustion of eating a seven-course meal, it is the norm to head to the beach for a lazy swim or to take a nap in the shade of coconut trees by the sea. The atmosphere is tranquil, and very laid back. In the evening Christmas festivities continue, extending into the night for a dance party involving more alcohol and the latest hits of the Indian Ocean region. Although the vibe is very different, the sentiments remain the same. Everyone is happy and excited to be celebrating Christmas. The pace of Christmas day is one that is considerably slowed down in the Seychelles, but no less enjoyable. Although the sights and sounds around may not be the first associations with Christmastime, they are no less unique.