The most beloved tree used in the islands at Christmas is the inkberry, a member of the Madder family. I hunted for a picture but couldn't find one. The inkberry, as its name suggests has small dark blue-black berries which were used to make dyes. It has small leaves and thorns. You can read a story called "The Beautiful Inkberry Tree" here. Towards the end it tells why the inkberry was used as a Christmas tree.
On St. John, in Cruz Bay, one Christmas tradition was that a large inkberry would be set up on the porch of the clinic and decorated. Sometime near Christmas Santa would arrive. All the kids and their parents would be there, Erva and me among them. We'd wait for Santa with the same excited expectation as kids everywhere. We never knew how he was going arrive. Maybe on a donkey or mule or in a jeep or maybe rowed ashore from a boat. But when he showed up we kids were always cheering and calling his name. "Santa, Santa come!"
He wore his red suit, had a white beard and brought with him a great big sack of presents. He was then ushered up onto the porch of clinic where a special chair, next to the inkberry, had been made ready just for him. The presents were taken out of the sack and put under the tree. Once he was settled and we kids had quieted down a bit, carols might be sung and prayers said. Then finally the moment would arrive. An adult would hand him a present and he'd call out a name.
Each and every one of us got some small wrapped gift that had our name on it. Each and every one of us got to go up and get a present straight from Santa's hands.
Afterwards there might be more caroling and things to eat, like sweet cakes, tarts and cookies.
And we kids could actually go talk to Santa if we wanted to.
Waiting for Santa remains one of my fondest memories. There were some wonderful lessons learned. Santa, being Santa, came by whatever means he could just so he could hand out presents. Even if it meant coming by donkey. After all a sleigh and reindeer doesn't make sense in the tropics where there's no snow or chimneys to climb down. I think I knew at a very young age that Santa wasn't a "real" person. I think I knew, without having the words to describe it, that people played the part of Santa because Santa was a feeling, an emotion, a spirit. Consequently it didn't matter what form, color or shape Santa took. That he was a black man wearing a white beard and dressed in a red suit made perfect sense. How could it be otherwise? It was Christmas, a time when miracles happen.
Guavaberry - by Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights - Guavaberry wine is made from soaking guavaberries in the strongest rum you can get then sweetened with a spiced syrup. Just about every family has their own recipe. You can learn alittle bit about guavaberries here. Guavaberry wine is the tradition drink of the holiday season. When people went out caroling, it was expected that the singers would be given a small glass of quavaberry and/or some sweet tarts. As you might imagine, by the time the caroling was over people would be a bit, shall we say, tipsy.