Charm is Bermuda’s forte and this tale of Christmas in Bermuda in the mid-20th century could not be more charming if it tried.
Christmas in Bermuda to the travel-hungry American, is an alluring sound. Bermuda at any season is unbelievably charming. When Bermudians remarked that I should have come at Eastertime when the flowers are in bloom, I was puzzled, for everywhere were tall bushes of immense, double, flaming poinsettias, and big blue morning-glories edged their way through gaps in the red-brown match-me-if-you-can hedges, while rose-bushes heavy with blooms clung to the walls. Here and there nasturtiums, narcissus and sweet-peas were making an early showing, and a few white oleanders, crimson hibiscus and ivory passion flowers dared to show their beauty. Yet miles of oleander bushes along the ocean drives gave promise of approaching glory, while half-grown lily stalks in wide acres told of Easter fragrance on the way.
Around the Christmastime it was chilly in Bermuda, in the 60’s but not damp, and steam-heated coral houses. I hovered over the fireplace and toted the electric heater from room to room and marveled at the big red rose tapping on my windowpane. “Silly thing,” I said, “don’t you know this is Christmas and much too cold for roses to be out?” The rose nodded haughtily. “Silly thing yourself,” it seemed to say. “Come out in the sun, it’s a gorgeous day.” And sure enough it was. It was always that way – no matter how chilly within, it was warmer outside and I ceased wondering at the open doors and windows.
Wandering up and down the continually winding roads I came upon new beauties at each turn, coral houses pointed a dazzling white or a bright pink, yellow or blue, and set in a frame of brilliant flowers; a never distant ocean of deepest blue or green streaked over the hidden reefs that protectively encircle the island; tall shaven palm trees, pointed cedars, sturdy cactus and palmettos – each foot of the way different, a never ending, always changing and charming vista. Even the little coral cottages of the coloured inhabitants are charming, that is if one does not glimpse the inevitable wooden chicken-pens and litter behind the houses.
Impressive minions that seemed to sprawl on the hilly land without relation to the road nearby I found were really carefully planned to fit the contour of the land. Rooms may be on different levels and at angles to one another but altogether charming. The apparent front entrance may be the rear and a wide veranda facing the ocean the true entrance. Curved “welcome steps” climb down to the singing sea. Between the sloping lawn and the little dock will be a walled enclosure, a “fish catch,” holding captive a group of queer or beautiful deep-water fish. Each house has its own name and since the roads outside the main streets of the towns are unnamed, the mailing address is that house-name and the parish.
The tourist who rides in a carriage over the rough, hilly side-roads admires the beauty of the unusually interesting coral houses, but only those who are fortunate enough to be guests of the residents may enter these private homes to enjoy their unusual interiors. The cordiality of Bermuda residents cannot be excelled. One cocktail party or dinner leads to another until the days are too few to accept all the proffered hospitality.
Visiting friends in the evening, and there is little other entertainment while the hotels are closed, means hiring carriages to make the long ride, unless one is brave enough to cycle over the narrow winding roads, so dark and so roughened by the many Army trucks. Carriage hire is alarmingly and it is not surprising, therefore to learn that the Bermudians spend many evenings at home. Contrasted with the nightly fittings to meetings, concerts, shows and parties customary in the large cities of America, this comes as a bit of a shock – yet isn’t the Bermuda home-life closer to the ideal! When motor cars become on the island, all this may change and the populace may be dashing over the island to meet nightly over cocktails and bridge-tables or to dance each night away. Who will say this will be a better way of life?
Shopping in old St. George’s and in more modern Hamilton is intriguing. The abundance of goods and food in Bermuda is astonishing. Jewelry (spelled with two ell’s) yard goods, cosmetics, toys, meat, butter, poultry and eggs all to be had in any amount, if one has the “price” and even the so-rare chocolate bar available by the box. The flowers and Christmas trees imported front the States seemed ironical in an island lavish with its flowers, foliage and cedar trees.
Getting to Bermuda is not easy, nor will it be easy until the large boats are reconditioned after their war service and can again carry their thousands to the “enchanted isles.” The splendid hotels then, and only then, will throw open their doors to those who are now vainly pounding for admittance.
Unlike many other “foreign” places one may visit, we cannot say after a stay in Bermuda, “There, I’ve seen the place. I’ll go somewhere else next time.” In one, two or three weeks it is impossible to enjoy all that Bermuda offers. The little stores with their great stock of goods tucked away and inadequately displayed have to be poured over to discover their value. The library, the museum, the aquarium and the historical society all have treasures to be enjoyed at leisure. Old St. George’s with its ancient landmarks alone is worth a week of study. The middle and shore roads of the island are charming and so are the less traveled unnamed lanes running off them. The Par-la-Ville and Victora parks merit close inspection of their flowers and trees imported from every land. Only one expected pleasure is missing – birds are few altogether one might expect variety of feathered company as beautiful as the abundant tropical fish.
Even one short week in Bermuda can be a memorable visit. A Christmas week in Bermuda is characterized by the many “Here’s to you” New Year’s wishes, the eating of the famed cassava pie, watching the dancing Gombeys on Boxing Day, and late night standing on the veranda listening to the call of the crickets and gazing at a sky fairly peppered with stars. When again in the wind and sleet of a northern city, such a week seems like a dream of fairyland. Bermuda at Eastertime must be beautiful. Bermuda at Christmastime is unforgettable.