Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Paumotu Christmas

Every year my family and I head out to our old home in the remote Tuamotu Atolls for Christmas and New Years. I guess you could call this a 'blue Christmas' since in this land of flat coral spits and coconut palms, we are surrounded by electric turquoise sea and lagoon for the whole holiday season. There is no Internet, no plumbing, no cars and very little to do beyond swimming, reading, fishing, cooking and surfing. It's a little like camping and I love it.

Over the years we've developed our own holiday traditions. We now always pack a collection of indelible markers and nail polish and the kids begin our stay by collecting all the hermit crabs they can find. Then all of us spend hours decorating their shells with rainbows, stars, racing stripes and anything else that comes to mind. Over the next weeks the beaches look like a moving psychedelic army and soon we all know the crabs by name. "Hey I saw Triceratops all the way over by the boat hanger today! . . . Speed Larry 2 got in a fight and had his shell stolen! . . . Did you see Stars and Stripes eating that dead fish's eyeball?" This is all big news in the Tuamotus.

Time doesn't really matter in the atolls so for the last two years we have celebrated Christmas whenever we've felt like it. Last year it came late because the cargo ship with all our presents forgot to unload our boxes so we had to wait till nearly New Years to get all our food and gifts. This year Santa came and we celebrated a few days early simply because we wanted more time to enjoy our presents to each other. There are ironwood trees on the atoll that resemble real Christmas trees, but none near our place so we traditionally get a miki miki, a low lying hardy shrub with pretty small round green leaves. We stuff it in an old cabin biscuit tin filled with coral gravel then decorate it with coral pieces, old crab shells and homemade paper chains. Invariably the cats play with it and it looks pretty scraggly by its second day up but it does the holiday-cheer job for us.

Our Christmas feast depends on what we have. This year I baked a bunch of whole grain bread like I always do plus brownies (click here for my recipe), then we ate fried fish and spaghetti carbonara since we had to use up the bacon and cream before it went bad. My kids insisted we sing Happy Birthday to Jesus - we aren't Catholic but they both go to Catholic middle school and think this is really funny. Sometimes we have a bunch of people over but this year it was just my family, Laurent the pearl farm manager and Fletcher, a friend from the US.

Christmas is mellow but the real party is on New Years Eve when we have had up to 40 people come out and celebrate with us. But that's another story and another blog entry - coming soon!


  1. It sounds absolutely idyllic and far less stressful than my Christmas holidays - see the latest post for details. Best wishes for 2010, Celeste, and I look forward to more of your fab commentaries and hubbie's beautiful photos!

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  3. Great article! Thanks for giving us an insight into life on a remote island. We love your idea about painting the hermit crabs. Nice work :)



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