Christmas Traditions

around the world

Celebrate like a local. 

Last week, we looked at the various festive feasts rustled up by some of our bases.

But how about celebrations? Every country has different festive myths, superstitions and traditions, and we wanted to know more. How do sailors in warmer climes like the Caribbean, Seychelles or Australia add a dash of seasonal cheer to days spent sailing in 30°C on turquoise seas and under clear blue skies? Here’s a handful of classic Christmas traditions from Sunsail bases around the world.

British Virgin Islands

In the early evening of Christmas Eve, The Bitter End Yacht Club pulls out all the stops for a superb boat parade on Virgin Gorda. They take a platoon boat, add a steel pan band and a Father Christmas, and start playing Christmas songs. They then drive all around the North Sound with other boats following them. Anyone can take part.  All the boats are dressed up with Christmas lights and all kinds of creative decorations, and some of the crews also dress themselves up.

Following the parade, everyone ends up in the bar at The Fat Virgin Café, Bitter End Yacht Club or Saba Rock for an atmospheric after party.

BVI islanders take Christmas very seriously. In the days and weeks running up to Christmas, carol singers visit houses all through the night, often turning up at 2am to awake their hosts, who get out of bed and serve them food and drinks.

The locals who work over the Christmas period also have a colourful party in The Bond in North Sound on Christmas Eve. This starts at about 10pm and goes through the night. The Bond is made up of lots of little local bars. As with everywhere in the BVI, there is a very convivial atmosphere, and all tourists are welcome to join in.


The fabric of a Belizean Christmas is woven with the twin strands of bram and brokdong, two unique Kriol traditions. The bram is a dancing spree that everyone participates in, all across the country. For the bram, people take to the streets and parade from house to house singing, making music, and dancing in honour of the season.

Brokdong is the traditional Kriol music that accompanies the bram. Locals say that brokdong can occur without the bram, but the bram cannot occur without brokdong. This Caribbean-style music can be made with two forks, a grater, a two-sided drum called a gombay, a banjo, a harmonica, an accordion, a quijada (the jawbone of a donkey), a shakkagourd (like a maraca)… or just about anything else that can make noise!

Brokdong lyrics are usually satirical and narrative, reciting histories and legends, and they are always sung in Kriol.

Procida, Italy

And now for something artistic, if a little quirky: at this time of year, the province of Naples is famous for filling their streets full of ‘presepe’, which are handmade ornaments that usually depict a nativity scene. An ancient practice that was elevated to new heights by Baroque artists, the art of ‘presepe’ is a firmly established Christmas tradition that produces thousands of religious and secular figurines each year.


Καλά Χριστούγεννα!

Our Lefkas base manager, Claire, told us about a Greek tradition that also emphasises the creative side of Christmas:

“Greece is a nation of sailors, and customarily the menfolk were often away from hearth and home for long stretches at a time.

In the dark winter months of stormy and dangerous seas, the women spent their days fretting over fathers, husbands and sons, battling with the waves; they would pray for their safe return.

When the ships were seen returning to harbour, the women would joyfully rush home to celebrate, by decorating small wooden boats, as a welcome to the weary seafarers. The boats were arranged on the floor, or next to the fire, with their bows pointing inwards, symbolising the homeward journey.

This was linked to the Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors. As the Feast of Saint Nicholas takes place on 6th December, this is when the boats are decorated. They are displayed for one month, until 6th January, which is Epiphany. 

On Christmas Eve, Greek children would visit neighbours to sing carols, and would carry with them small wooden or paper boats, which they had lovingly prepared in the lead up to Christmas. Their neighbours would then reward the children by placing treats, such as cakes or candy, into their little boats.

In 1833, King Otto of Bavaria, decorated the first Christmas tree in Greece and from then on, the Christmas tree was a permanent fixture, standing alongside a decorated boat.”


Australians do Christmas very differently to us Brits. As it falls during the height of the southern hemisphere summer, temperatures often reach 30°C. As a result, Christmas Day in the Whitsundays is all about BBQs on long, wispy streaks of golden sand, with the odd Santa hat and sand snowman thrown in for good humour. Australians typically like to set sail for a leisurely Christmas cruise, or sunbathe with a cold drink in hand. The food focus tends to be on cold picnics or, clichéd though it seems, BBQs full of seafood. It seems sticking another shrimp on the barbie really is a festive tradition here.

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Inspired to celebrate in a new way this Christmas? Why not explore a new culture in 2017 and see some of these traditions up close with a bareboat, flotilla or skippered holiday in one of our 25 worldwide destinations?

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