November 2004by Julie Warburton
Flipping through old snap shots, thousands upon thousands of unedited memories come alive for me of Christmas holidays spent on St. Barts. I can reach back in time, years of joy spent with loved ones, and dig up photos over and over of happy times, fat ones and skinny ones, but all indelibly remembered as joyous celebrations spent together in the warmth and the quiet of the Lorient hillside. Same villa, same time next year, same old same old fabulous view, tireless in its beauty.
Matt asked me to write this trip report, and I thought, how do I sum it all up for new visitors to St. Barts over the holiday period? Haven’t we all been doing this together for years? Beaten our paths to Saline together over the burning sands only to be rewarded by the magnificence of that astounding view just over the crest? Haven't we bumped into each other in line at JoJo's looking for the elusive something or other for the next meal, or pumping gas in our pareos and straw hats? But if we haven’t met and you are looking for this first time journey to be as good as it can get then I can offer one word of advice. (Well, maybe two or three by the time this is finished.)
Leave your expectations behind! Just let it be what it evolves into over the course of the lucky moments you have to spend there. That’s half the fun! Sure, be smart and reserve times in your favorite restaurants, and plan a cocktail party if you'd like, but I recommend going with the flow, especially if you have kids.
Our daughters first touched the waters of Baie de St. Jean when they were only months old, hats bigger than they were, and eyes grasping the blues that probably colored their memory in some unforgettable way. My husband and I would spend luxurious moments transiting the island hills with them sleeping in the car seats we had hauled down, appreciating the exotic tranquility of Cote Au Vent even more so. As the girls grew, and packed items for the holiday changed from diapers and formula, to bikinis and flippers, our traditions didn’t vary much at all. Christmas eve is still spent in the Anglican Church with family singing along to verse upon verse of favorite Christmas Carols, taking turns at the lectern reading an appropriate psalm, and looking forward to whose little child will put the Baby Jesus in the crèche. No matter your religion, no matter the political climate. On this warm evening love is love the world around and it is that which the congregation celebrates in an exquisitely simple way.
According to our tradition, dinner within walking distance from the church follows. We love the spirit in Gustavia that night. Locals and the rest of us mingle, wishing each other merry merries, champagne corks popping over the heads of kids asleep under restaurant tables, harbor side music bouncing off the water. Such gaiety, and relief! For some that means the presents are under the tree, and the stockings poised. Yachts lining the harbor have front row seats to the gleaming windows of Cartier and Hermes, and for some all the action of last minute shopping can be both electrifying and full of extravagance. For others, the quest for the perfect tee shirt gift or book can be just as exciting.
Over the years we have established other traditions that have evolved over time, and no matter how hard my husband and I try to wrap our gifts and get them under the tree by some reasonable hour, we have found it next to impossible. So now the girls know that there may be a few extra pieces of fruit filling up the toes of their stockings, and more sleeping in on Christmas morning than there used to be, but they know that our bed is for piling upon and that chocolate will be eaten before breakfast! Glorious Christmas mornings of soft air and warm tiles under foot are such a far cry from the bitter New England winds, we remind ourselves as we prepare for a full day of festivities centered around our villa. After padding around with our coffees for awhile, holding the kids at bay for a few more minutes of regrouping (or wrapping that which was forgotten), we settle in for a love fest of ribbons and thank you hugs, and hope that the rest of the family and invited friends don't arrive for lunch before we have all jumped in the pool, or taken a swim in Lorient Bay.
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