Ella Fitzgerald, the Andrews Sisters and Bob Dylan have all crooned the question: ‘how’d ya like to spend Christmas on Christmas Island?’ This evergreen song sparks visions of faraway places with names as festive as the season it describes. Tempted to live out the lyrics for real? Then give yourself the gift of travel with a trip to one of these far-flung isles.
Christmas Island, Canada
If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, Nova Scotia delivers snow by the sleighload. The tiny township of Christmas Island, on the edge of Bras d’Or Lake in Cape Breton, has two possible explanations for its name. One is extremely practical: government surveyors finished mapping the district on 24 December, with the exception of one area that still needed naming – it became Christmas Island. The other tells of an indigenous chief named Noel who was buried on the island.
Fun in the festive season?
If walking in a winter wonderland is your idea of perfection, 'snowhere like it. December temperatures on Christmas Island rarely rise above freezing and are often much, much colder. Sinking into knee-deep snow around the shore of the frozen lake is magical, as is the persistent presence of hardy birds gathered in the few remaining patches of open water.
There aren’t many people on the road or, indeed, anywhere outside at this time of year. In the township itself, most hotels and shops shut for the winter season with the exception of the post office. It stays open and is always busy, sorting and stamping mail that arrives from all over the world requesting a Christmas Island postmark and managing the many letters that arrive addressed to Father Christmas.
The nearest transport and accommodation hub is Sydney. No, not that one! The capital of Cape Breton is Sydney and it pays to double-check your flight booking, unlike the Dutch student who found himself here instead of in Australia. Sydney airport is 60km from Christmas Island (and hire cars come equipped with snow chains).
Stocking Island, The Bahamas
White Christmas dreams come true on sun-drenched Stocking Island, albeit in the form of sand rather than snow. The four-mile-long island – a stone's throw from Great Exuma – is ideal for a laid-back escape; fill your days with morning hikes on the island's many well-marked trails, followed by lazy afternoons on turquoise-trimmed beaches. A traditional roast dinner may not be on the agenda, but you'll be able to stuff yourself silly at Chat'N'Chill, a BBQ joint famous for its roast suckling pig, served every Sunday.
Fun in the festive season?
Christmas Day can be a quiet affair on Stocking, as many businesses shut to celebrate the big day. But on Boxing Day the Bahamas turns up the volume on its colourful Caribbean culture with the Junkanoo parade, an explosion of bright costumes, pumping tunes and bedazzled dancers. The main event happens in the capital Nassau, but Stocking Island dwellers can ferry to George Town for the local festivities.
Christmas Island, Kiribati
An even more remote Christmas Island lies in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Part of the nation of Kiribati, it is the world’s largest coral atoll. The low-lying island shimmers in a haze of white sand, silver shallows and deep-blue lagoon. It takes its English name from the arrival of Captain James Cook on Christmas Eve 1777. In the local language, the island is spelt ‘Kiritimati’ ‘ti’ is pronounced ‘s’, so it sounds the same. Cook replenished his crew’s food supplies from the uninhabited island’s massive colonies of seabirds but was otherwise unimpressed by its isolation and barrenness.
Reminders of early, unsuccessful attempts by Europeans to establish plantations remain on the island: its former and current settlements glory in the names of London, Poland, Paris and Banana.
Fun in the festive season?
Christmas on Kiritimati is as low-key as the island is low-lying. Islanders, settled here since the 1950s, survive on little more than subsistence farming and the occasional supply ship from the capital Tarawa, some 3000km distant – so there are few commercial trappings of Christmas.
Traditional Kiribati culture and Christianity blend in a unique way and visitors are welcome to Christmas services. A truly local experience is offered in open-sided palm-thatched meeting houses rather than concrete churches; there will be enthusiastic singing and chanting, and decorations of shells and flowers.
Catching Christmas lunch is a necessity as much as tradition. Game fish abound on the sand flats and in the lagoon, and the few accommodation options – there are several homestays and one hotel – are happy to cook whatever visitors reel in.
Staying on Christmas Island until midnight 31 December means being among the first people in the world to welcome the New Year. And on an island where there’s generally only one weekly flight to and from Honolulu, why not? There’s no hurry to leave.
Yule also find these on the map:
- Cold Christmas, England – There’s a rumour that the ghosts of Christmas past linger in the ruined church at this tiny hamlet.
- Ho Ho Hollywood aka Tinseltown, USA – A Christmas bargain! Two names for the price of one, reflecting the evergreen sparkle of the season (in real life as well as in the movies).
- Carrot Hill, Scotland – Weekend walkers at this popular hiking spot are more likely to encounter sheep grazing grass rather than reindeer chomping carrots.
- Rudolf Island, Russia – This remote staging post gives scientists, as well as Santa Claus, access to the North Pole.
- Santa Claus Village, Finland – See Father Christmas every day of the year at this entertainment park located in the Arctic Circle.
- Christmas, Florida, USA – People travel from far and wide to send their festive post from this spot, just for the Christmas postmark.