"" Writer's Wanderings: Christmas Memories 4

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Christmas Memories 4

John Grisham was not original in his idea of "skipping Christmas". A year or two before his book came out, we looked at our options for gift giving and feasting and found that most of it would be done before the week of the 25th. Our kids were all on their own, some with their own kids now, so we decided to try a warm Christmas vacation.

Bob found a wonderful ship, the Paul Gauguin, in French Polynesia. (Everyone always says "Tahiti" but we were constantly corrected. Tahiti is only one island in French Polynesia.) We arrived two days earlier and stayed at a hotel to give us some time to catch up on the time difference.

Our room was in a thatch roofed bungalow out over the water. Below us in the pristine water was a reef active with a variety of tropical marine life we could observe just by opening a few slats in the walls or stepping out onto the veranda.

Once settled, we donned our bathing suits, found two lounge chairs in the shade and settled in to read and enjoy the beautiful warm breezes that drifted across the water. There were few people around to disturb us and it wasn't long before we fell asleep. We hadn't counted on sleeping long, nor on the sun moving across the sky and changing the position of the protective shade. We awoke just shy of being cooked lobsters but refreshed and ready to explore.

We found a small dive operation with two divemasters who spoke French and little English. Thankfully the hand signals for diving are universal. The dive was not so remarkable but we were able to renew our skills and feel comfortable in the water again, ready to take on some serious diving from the ship's offerings.

The Paul Gauguin was a beautiful but small ship. It was full of families celebrating Christmas away from home. I wondered if I was going to regret our decision when Christmas day came.

Each morning, we found ourselves looking out at lush green tropical forest that covered the sides of volcanic mountains. We explored the islands, sometimes on a shore excursion and other times on our own. At Moorea we rented a crazy little car and drove around the island. Each turn in the road revealed a new breathtaking view. It was amazing how God could cram so much beauty into such a little place.

Christmas morning arrived. I had packed little Christmas stockings filled with hard candies to give to our room steward and our waiters in the dining room. I found our room steward in the hallway and handed her a stocking. Her face lit up and many "thank you"s poured out but the real excitement came when I handed her a second stocking and said she should give it to a friend. She was like a child in her excitement to find her friend--more excited to be able to give than to receive.

As we relaxed on a warm sandy beach under the shade of palm trees rustling in the breeze and watched Santa in red shorts and barefeet as he handed out his treats to the kids, I thought about the meaning of the day. It didn't matter so much where you were, what traditions you followed, or whether it snowed or not. What mattered was the spirit of giving that was realized in that first Christmas gift of a small baby to a world in need.

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