The Magic of Christmas in the Caribbean

.We just got home from another Christmas vacation in Jamaica. It was our third, and this one was by far the most beautiful and memorable one yet.

Our first Caribbean Christmas was back in 2011. I remember the day we booked it. It was late August and we started talking about Christmas only being a few months away. We don’t have kids and we don’t get to see our families for much more than a meal, usually a few days after Christmas (when everyone’s schedules cooperate). We imagined ourselves sitting in our apartment over the holidays, just the two of us, listening to Christmas music, enjoying each other’s company, and watching one Christmas movie after the next. And don’t get me wrong – sometimes a wintery Christmas morning in a pair of brand new flannel PJs can be exactly what the doctor ordered, but that year, we wanted something bigger and better.

Then the idea was born – let’s spend Christmas in the Caribbean! We grabbed the laptop and started researching. Four months later, on December 18th, we were headed for the airport, Santa hats in tow.

We weren’t sure what to expect. Would the resort even acknowledge the fact it was Christmas, or would they go all out and celebrate the holiday as much as we do at home? I was hoping the latter was true because I really do love the spirit of the holidays. I love the decorations, the music, the festivities, and just the overall spirit. So I really hoped we’d get a taste of all that, but with the added pleasure of waking up on the beach under the hot sun!

DSCF1138Well, in Jamaica, you can pretty much expect the holiday celebrations you take part in at home. Expect the Christmas trees and the decorations, the Christmas carols, and the Christmas-themed shows and parties.

While each resort celebrates the holidays differently, here’s basically what you can expect. I’ll preface this by disclosing two facts: We’ve only done Christmas in Jamaica and only to Sandals resorts – Sandals Negril, Sandals Royal Caribbean, and Sandals Whitehouse (now named Sandals South Coast).

Before you go

Telling people

When you tell people you’re going to the Caribbean for the holidays, expect mixed reactions.  Some will respond with intense enthusiasm – “Wow….so amazing! I wish I could do that!” – but also expect snide remarks from a few.

The night before our first Christmas trip, I sat in the waiting area at the hair salon chatting with a woman next to me. She asked if I was ready for Christmas. I told her that we were flying to Jamaica the next day for the holidays. I’ll never forget her response: “Oh, well that’s a good idea if you hate Christmas, I guess, but I love Christmas.” I replied “Oh, I love Christmas, too.” She seemed so disgusted at the idea. It was the first negative reaction I’d received, so it came as a surprise. It turns out there are more people than you’d think that react this way. They just can’t fathom leaving their traditions behind to go plop down on a beach.

Because we don’t see our families much at Christmas, we don’t worry about lash back when we tell them we’re heading South for Christmas. The family members we do see, we tell them we’ll be back in time for our traditional post-Christmas meal, which usually takes place between the 27th and 30th. It’s never a big deal. But I know the potential for drama is there for families with solid traditions, so be prepared for the conversation and a bit of lash back. And maybe be prepared for the question “Can we come?” :)

Packing

Pack the usuals but think about adding Christmas-themed stuff, like…

  • Santa hats
  • Decorations for your room or patio
  • Red attire: swim suit, dress, t-shirt, etc.
  • Small Christmas gifts or cards for your favourite staff members

When you arrive

Like I said, every Caribbean island likely differs in how they celebrate, and every resort differs, based on my experience. But here’s a basic idea of what you can expect on the resort.

The sights

On your way to the resort, if you drive through small towns, you’ll see busy parking lots and people out and about shopping.

IMG_20161225_121419When you arrive at the resort, you’ll see the decorations right away – the garland, the lights, the ribbon, etc. You’ll usually find at least one Christmas tree – in the main lobby. You’ll even see staff members in Santa hats.IMG_20161225_121056

Some guests bring decorations for their patios and doors, so you’ll see a few strings of lights here and there throughout the resort.

The sounds

You’ll hear the Christmas carols. And for the most part, they’re the same carols you’d hear at home – Holly Jolly Christmas, Silver Bells, Jingle Bell Rock, etc. You might not start hearing the carols until Christmas eve, though, and then all day on Christmas Day – usually around the pool. And in the background, you’ll hear the waves crashing. J

The tastes

Love your turkey dinner at Christmas? No worries – they’ve got you covered! All three resorts I’ve been to offered a Christmas turkey dinner.  You may find it at the buffet at lunch or at dinner, or you may be handed a special dinner menu at night that features traditional Christmas feasts – turkey or ham dinner. If you don’t want a traditional Christmas dinner, that’s OK – you can still order from the daily and nightly menus.

The festivities

Expect Christmas-themed entertainment. On this last visit, our resort brought in a local high school choir on Christmas Eve to sing Christmas carols. We sat outdoors in a beautifully and tastefully decorated courtyard, champagne in hand, as they serenaded us with their beautiful voices. It was really magical.

On Christmas Day, you’ll see and hear more of Christmas, just like you would at home. More carols, more festivities and entertainment, more greetings from staff and fellow guests, etc. Oh, and Santa and his elves will always make an appearance, usually by way of a speedboat.

DSCF0529While I’m sitting there taking part in all of these Christmas festivities, I often think about the hair salon woman’s reaction –“oh, you must hate Christmas!” I smile because I actually get more out of Christmas down there than I would at home! Christmas is everywhere there, and I love it!

On that note, if your motive to head South for the holidays is to escape Christmas, you might want to consider something other than an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean. It’s really hard to escape it at these resorts.

When it’s over, it’s over!

They don’t seem to let it linger the way we do at home. Typically, the decorations, the carols, and the greetings are all done and over with when you wake up on the 26th, although this really differs by resort. One resort had it all stripped down when the entertainment ended on Christmas night, but another resort still had the decorations and tree up on the eve of the 26th.  But for the most part, don’t expect the feeling of Christmas to linger long after Christmas night (not necessarily a bad thing!).

Coming home: Expect a long winter

If you live in a cold climate like I do, you probably like to take your sun vacation when winter’s at its worst – January to March. If you can only take one winter vacation on any given year, and you choose the holidays, expect a long winter ahead of you. As you know, winter’s just getting started around the holidays, so be prepared. It’ll be a long one!

But sometimes a long winter is worth experiencing the spirit of Christmas in paradise!

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