I stood barefoot in the soft, white sand. Giant raindrops landed on me, pasting my blonde hair to my face. I looked down to see little drops forming at the end of my thick, straight locks. My little, orange bathing suit was soaked through and I hadn’t even been in the water yet. I wriggled my toes into the powdery sand near the base of a palm tree and watched as rainwater collected in the small hole I’d left.
“Courty? Do you see him? There’s Santa!”
My head jolted upright. I peered out over the rain-pocked turquoise water and caught glimpse of an outrigger canoe. I could see two people in it, but they were too far off to know who. One was dressed in red, though.
Behind me someone blew a conch shell, sending a deep, vibrating call out over me and the ukuleles started. In a French accent, beautifully curvy women in grass skirts and crowns of hibiscus and palm fronds began singing, I’m dreaming of a white Christmas… the drums began, and their hips knocked side to side, hands gracefully stroking the humid air. I watched, hypnotized by this stunning and proud display of pure femininity.
“Court! Court! It’s Santa!” My little brother was tugging on my arm. I turned away from the music and the mesmerizing dance. The outrigger canoe was almost at the shore and I could make out red Santa pants, and a red Santa coat. I watched the other man in the boat row gently ashore and hop out, giving the canoe a final push into the sand.
Santa rose and turned to face the crowd gathered on the beach. He was skinny. Awkward teenaged boy skinny. His Santa suit was clinging to him with the damp of the rain, and I could see the faint hint of Santa ribs. His skin was chocolatey brown, and he had a thick, long, black beard with a matching moustache. His deep brown eyes glistened as he popped open an umbrella and held it above his head. With his free hand, he grabbed a giant red sack from the depths of the canoe.
“It’s Santa!” My little brother yelled, excited. Having spent most of his four years of life travelling, this version of Santa didn’t seem at all strange to him.
I watched as Santa took his first step out of the canoe and noticed he was barefoot. He made his way towards us, his bright white smile contrasting with his dark skin and beard.
“Joyeux Noël!” He called out. Taking a knee in the delicate, wet sand, he opened his sack. “Cadeaux! Je dois cadeaux!”
The handful of kids in the crowd beamed and ran toward him. We stood in line as he handed out tops and puzzles and balls and tiny little Polynesian dolls. The music wailed on behind us, the hippy women still waving their hands in the air, appearing as though their hips and legs were controlled by a completely different force than their torsos and arms. We played with our new toys and followed Santa into the open-air restaurant and ate oranges and pineapple chunks. We all strung luscious pink flowers on strings and draped them around a small tree in the dining area and sang along to all the familiar Christmas carols we knew from back home being picked on a Tahitian banjo.
When it was finally time for Santa to leave, all the kids followed him back to his canoe. A disorganized chorus of “Bye Santa!”s rang out, with the odd, “Au Revoir!” He climbed back into his boat with his friend, and we all pushed it out into the vibrantly coloured water. We hopped in the water, swimming alongside the canoe as it made it’s way further and further from the snow coloured beach. The water was warm, despite the fact it was still raining.
“Bye Santa!” We called as he pulled ahead of us. We stood in the water watching the distance between us and Santa’s outrigger canoe grow. We waved and swam and splashed each other and laughed. Before we knew it, he was a speck on the horizon. I turned to look back at the Island of Moorea. My mom and dad sat in the sand in bathing suits, watching us play in the water. The Christmas lights were glistening from inside the restaurant and the dancing women had finally taken a break to eat something. I could hear the faint sound of their laughter as they talked over their lunch. The ukulele player was leaned against a palm in the sand, playing a slowed-down version of Deck the Halls.
This was my first Christmas away from home. I’d worried leading up to that day that it wouldn’t be the same as the Christmases we had back home. Floating in the warm salt water, looking out after the skinniest Santa I’d ever met drifting away in an outrigger canoe, all that worry melted away. I wished all my Christmases were like this from now on.