It’s become quite routine now…Halloween passes and seemingly the next day we start hearing Christmas commercials on the radio, seeing toys being advertised on television, even hearing holiday songs at the grocery store. Santa starts popping up on our news feed and at every corner store – reduced to nothing more than an advertising gimmick. Those of us with kids or grandkids sign them up to sit on his lap at the mall, we start shopping, we start to wonder what news cousin Eddie will bring this year…
The holidays are a time of family, giving, gratitude, and the spirit of cheer. But they’ve also become a commercial nightmare, thrust upon us for nearly an entire quarter of the year. If you’re one of the millions of people who miss the seemingly forgotten days of simpler, more cherished celebration, you’re not alone. And so I ask you, what better way to spend your holiday than among the company of a happy, healthy, family-centered community?
It may seem odd when you first consider it, but I assure you the idea of spending Christmas in the Caribbean will grow on you the more you turn it over in your head. I spent last year’s holidays on the tropical island of Ambergris Caye, Belize. People celebrate differently here. There is no Black Friday, no insane traffic jams, no ungrateful, spoiled kids or competition for who gets the best present. Cousin Eddie is not here either.
What you will find is a vibrant community that still celebrates the true meaning of the season – giving, being thankful, and sharing our livelihoods with our neighbors. Much of the population of San Pedro, Belize, the central town on the island of Ambergris Caye, is quite poor. Many children come from families of hard working laborers, fishermen, and street vendors. They save and struggle all year long just to be able to provide their sons, daughters, nieces, and nephews with a toy or two.
San Pedro is home to a number of charitable organizations that are becoming famous for their toy drives. Groups like the Lions Club, the newly chartered Rotary International, and independent toy drives run by citizen volunteers dole out tickets to willing donors with children’s holiday wish lists on them, hoping and praying for items to be donated in turn. Their prayers are usually answered thanks to the amazing goodwill of this community. People from all around the world live here, of every race and creed, and together they form a wonderful glowing tapestry. The hearts of children are warmed every year thanks to thousands of selfless donations.
There is also a highly unique holiday celebration in San Pedro that is celebrated every year. Instead of your standard parade of cars, participants deck their boats out with elaborate lighting and festive designs, and then troll up and down the length of the island for the annual Holiday Boat Parade. The designs are judged and prizes awarded to winners. Those not on a boat, which is most of the population of the island, line the beaches and docks to cheer on this special event.
But most of all, the island revels in the neighborly cheer that spreads across this quaint paradise for the season. Instead of crowded malls and online shopping, you’ll be treated to local charm here. It’s just amplified a little around the holiday season. So if you’ve ever dreamed of decorating a palm tree with Christmas lights like in that one Corona commercial, come on down and do it for real! Getting away from the routine of the holidays and reminding yourself what they are truly all about is the best way to revitalize your cheer. Ditch the boots and hats this year for some flip flops and swim trunks…the temperature is the same year-round here, and the Caribbean is calling you.