Recalling early Christmases in Cayman

Comart and its upstairs store, Fantastique, was a popular shopping spot at Christmas. - Photo: Courtesy of Craig Merren

Every year, the mention of Christmas seems to come earlier and earlier. I swear that pumpkins, black cats and witches’ hats had barely been cleared away at the beginning of this November before Santa started to appear on the scene. Many people find it an irritation, the fact that these two dates on the calendar are almost shaking hands despite being separated by nearly two months.

Me, I cannot help but love an early reminder that Christmas is on its way. When the first cool wind blows across Cayman and residents wear something a little more substantial than a thin shirt for evening dates, it means that winter is here and it brings with it the festive season.

I always try to get my lights and decorations up early because leaving that kind of thing until the last minute is an exercise in frustration. Last year, my arms were aching as I painstakingly attached icicle lights to the front awning of the house. It’s amazing how difficult it is to get into the spirit when you are up a rickety ladder trying to avoid stapling your fingers and unravelling lights at the same time, yet when the nighttime comes and you flick the switch, why it’s all completely magical!

When we were kids growing up here, Dad always made sure that the house was festooned with decorations. I think I’ve inherited his tolerance level when it comes to assembling Christmas trees, but hey, it’s all part of the yearly ritual that makes for great memories. The ornaments that fall and smash on the tiled floor, the one string of lights that does not work (and it’s always the set in the middle) the star that simply will not remain vertical … ahh, the joys.

Speaking of yearly rituals, does anyone remember when Santa used to be taken around town on a flatbed truck or something similar, throwing out sweets to the townsfolk? We used to lie in wait like Robin Hood’s Merry Men and as Santa came into view, we’d ready ourselves to leap into the air, trying to catch candy flying at us like the innards of some crazed piñata.

As Dec. 25 grew ever closer, Mum would take us out to see all the lights on the houses. We had a favorite route around town and homes we could count on to put on a show. We’d sing Christmas carols in the car and stop at some of the more impressive displays to take a really good look. It’s wonderful that so many properties (including, of course, the Crightons and the house opposite Sunset House) make such an effort every year to bring happiness to so many people – including CUC. Anyone who has lived in Grand Cayman for more than 12 months knows that you need to add at least another 10 minutes to your journey if you are heading to the East End of the island in December – there are cars parked all along the road by the Crightons’ house and people wandering the gardens in awe.

By-Rite on Albert Panton Street was a shopping staple for islanders. – Photo: Courtesy of Craig Merren

I know this is going to sound like one of those backward-uphill-through-the-snow stories, but when we were children here, there was pretty limited access to a variety of gifts. Our Toys-R-Us was Comart in George Town (or rather its upstairs, which I think was called Fantastique), and JC Penney, Burdines, etc., translated to Merren’s, By-Rite and Atlantic Department stores. Uncle Bill’s always had the bicycles, and shoes lined the shelves at No. 1 Shoe Shop. These days, there is a diversity overload – I cannot imagine how parents manage to keep up with the latest and greatest things on the market. In MY day (yes, I’m allowed to say that – I’m over 40) you played music on a record player or in a tape deck. There was none of this iPod/MP3 business.

I think there were only a few models of Barbie that were around at the same time. Now there are gazillions from which one can choose, not to mention the Monster High dolls and electronics gifts, like Virtual Reality headsets, that boggle the mind and the pocketbook. Hey, I do not begrudge anyone these great gifts, but honestly, it was so much simpler back then. Our neighborhood would have a Christmas dinner out on the beach and shoes were optional. If we missed playing in the snow, it never showed. The sand was white enough and there’s something to be said for a palm tree with lights up its trunk and the natural ornaments of coconuts.

Those who will be experiencing their first Christmas here may find it disconcerting to not see an obvious change in seasons, but trust me, by now you will be turning off your air-conditioning, opening the windows to your house, and donning your cardigan when you sit at any venue by the sea. We get in the spirit here just as much as anywhere else in the world, particularly when communities go to church together and the singing rings into the night air.

Man, I love me some Christmas.

The Crightons’ house on Shamrock Road is a must-visit at Christmas.