Caribbean Holidays: Christmas in Grand Cayman

The 40-foot tree is the centerpiece of Camana Bay.
The 40-foot tree is the centerpiece of Camana Bay. Photo by Claudia Carbone

No snow? No problem. Christmas doesn’t have to be a winter wonderland. The people of Grand Cayman make up for lack of snow and cold with plenty of holiday activities, festive decorations and the warmest Christmas spirit embodied by their very own Caribbean Santa in shorts and flip flops. When I first heard Jingle Bells with a Reggae beat, I knew I was celebrating the holidays Caribbean style! It’s the most joyful time of year on the island; even the ex-pats tend to stay for the holidays.

Annual Tree Lighting
Nowhere is the holiday brighter than in Camana Bay, the island’s charming upscale urban center and happening place. The season kicks off at dusk on the Saturday before Thanksgiving when the switch is flipped to morph the town center into a sparkling Christmas village anchored by an enormous 40-foot tree at the end of The Paseo on The Crescent by the bay.

A boat in the Parade of Lights at Camana Bay
A boat in the Parade of Lights at Camana Bay. Photo by Claudia Carbone

Parade of Lights
Easily the biggest event of the season, the annual Parade of Lights happens the first Saturday in December at Camana Bay. Boats of every shape and size decked out in holiday lights cruise the harbor to the delight of the crowd of thousands that lines the shoreline. Local choirs and bands, food and craft booths provide entertainment and activities before the parade, and afterwards a fabulous fireworks display shimmers its reflection in the water as it lights up the night sky.

Santa Sightings
In the town’s Gardenia Court, Santa’s house awaits the arrival of the big guy every Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m. Every Saturday from 3 to 5 p.m. Caribbean Santa visits the little island off Camana Bay and loves to have his photo taken with visitors in his boat.

Caribbean Santa greets guests on an island in Camana Bay. Photo credit: Camana Bay
Caribbean Santa greets guests on an island in Camana Bay. Photo credit: Camana Bay

Christmas Films Al Fresco
Every Tuesday in December, you can cozy up on a blanket with your picnic (Bay Market has great take-out) to watch holiday movies on the big screen set up outside on the lawn of The Crescent. Yes, you’ll have to pinch yourself to remember it’s Christmas time as you lay back under the stars while the balmy breezes gently cool off the evening! December heralds the beginning of winter season—the best weather of the year in the Caribbean.

Celebrations
While you’re in Camana Bay, visit Celebrations, a sensational seasonal store with the most elaborate Christmas decor you’ll ever see. Find the perfect Christmas souvenir to take home; you may even spot a Caribbean Santa statue if they’re not all sold.

Christmas Lights Tour
The locals’ tradition of driving around looking at holiday lights is easy to do on Grand Cayman (it gets dark around 6 p.m.). Watch for colorful displays on the roundabouts (there are many); then head to South Sound Road where homeowners deck their halls in magnificent style. Two private homes not to miss are The Crighton family home at 389 South Sound Rd. across from Sunset House and the Bodden sisters’ home at 705 across from Smith Cove. The large grounds of the Crighton home are tastefully filled with lighted Christmas scenes, and each piece of landscaping is brilliant with color. The Bodden residence sparkles in a gold theme this year, with palm trees seeming to explode at their tops like a spray of fireworks.

The grounds of the Crighton home is lit with millions of lights. Photo by Claudia Carbone
The grounds of the Crighton home is lit with millions of lights. Photo by Claudia Carbone

If you don’t have a car, consider the Christmas Bus Tour of Lights on December 19, 20 and 23, 2013. The tour, which begins and ends at Dart Park, includes a stop at historic Mission House as well as visits to the most decorated homes on the island. The cost is CI$30 for adults; CI$15 for children and includes traditional food like Christmas beef and Cassava Cake and drinks. Reservations: 345-749-1121; dbodden@nationaltrust.org.ky

A special mailbox just for Santa in Camana Bay. Credit Claudia Carbone
A special mailbox just for Santa in Camana Bay. Credit Claudia Carbone

Gingerbread Houses
This holiday event started just a year ago at the Ritz Carlton, the Gingerbread House Workshop is a huge hit with families eager to start their own tradition. Executive Pastry Chef Ben Kallenbach bakes and assembles the houses, then oversees the decorating with the help of his staff. We created a masterpiece with three colors of frosting, assorted small candies and lots of giggles. “Everyone smiles when they are doing this,” said the chef. The house now stands proudly as our centerpiece for Christmas dinner. Another workshop takes place December 21 from 2 to 3 p.m. The cost per family is CI$60. Reservations: 345-815-6117.

Teddy Bear Tea
Also at the Ritz Carlton, Teddy Bear Tea is a Christmas-themed version of their regular afternoon tea in the beautiful Silver Palm Lounge. The classic children’s pretend tea party with teddy bear friends comes alive when the kiddos and their parents indulge in tea sandwiches and Chef Kallenbach’s sweet treats before a surprise visit from Santa. Choose from two seatings: 12-2 p.m. and 2:30-4:30 p.m. December 15, 21, 22, 23, 24. Reservations: 345-815-6117

Author Bio: Claudia Carbone is an award-winning journalist based in Denver, Colorado. This is her first Christmas away from mountains and snow.

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