MAURITIUS, EAST AFRICA — I can’t really remember how we managed to choose Mauritius as a vacation destination, however here we are. Jane (Jim’s wife) and I are on a four-month vacation; two months in Mauritius and two months in South Africa.
I think Jane was doing an internet search for warm vacation destinations for December and January and Mauritius was one of the Google responses. I do remember that she did some follow-up research and through the Canadian Governments Department of Foreign Affairs website we learned that this is a safe tourist destination. It is exotic, certainly off the beaten track for North American travel destinations, and oh yes….it’s warm!
This month we are staying in Grand Gaube, a village located on the northern part of the island. There are beautiful sandy beaches, with dazzling turquoise waters. The vegetation is lush, with grand flowering trees and dazzling colourful gardens. It is a veritable tropical paradise and it is no wonder that this is a sought-after winter escape. December and January are the peak months for tourism and the island is bustling.
It seems odd, walking around in shorts, t-shirt and sandals under blue skies and a blazing sun to be thinking of Christmas, however it will soon be upon us. The Christian religions are practiced by only around 32 per cent of the island’s residents.
The largest religious group are the Hindus that comprise about half the population. Mauritius has the third highest per capita of Hindus in the world behind India and Nepal. Muslims are the third largest religious group with slightly over 17 per cent of the population. Mixed into the diverse religious and ethnic community are Buddhists, followers of the Bahá'í Faith, Sikhs, Confucianism and Taoism.
There are Christmas decorations to be seen in commercial districts and in some stores Christmas carols are piped over the intercoms. Even at a little Hindu barber that I went to, the lady barber had decorations around the shop.
At a little Catholic Church in the village of Cap Malheureux, I spoke to Michael, a local resident and guide. He helped explain about Christmas in Mauritius.
Christians decorate inside their houses much as we would do at home. They have their Christmas tree which are either natural pine and spruce or artificial, and there are presents underneath for the children. People will attend a midnight mass at the church on the 24th and there are also two masses on Christmas Day.
Just like home, Christmas is a day for family. The day is celebrated with church service, the giving of gifts and a family dinner. Turkeys are now available at many of the large supermarkets although sometimes the meal will consist of a large chicken. Christmas cakes such as the Bûche de Noël (yuletide log) are also a part of family dinner. Many people also celebrate with a barbeque and special treats.
Michael emphasized that Christmas is more of a family celebration. He noted that getting together with friends and neighbours is usually reserved for New Year’s festivities.
This is also the peak of the tourist season. Hotels and vacation homes are close to capacity, so many places will still be open to get a meal or have a drink. Another Christmas tradition for tourists and locals alike, is to picnic at the beach. Christmas Day is a Mauritian public holiday, but I have been told that stores are still usually open for a half day (until around noon).
I am not sure how Jane and I will be spending Christmas Day. We will probably be at the pool or picnicking at the beach and possibly going to a restaurant for a nice supper. Whatever we do, we will certainly be thinking of our family and our friends. We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Jim Hildebrand is a former Pilot correspondent who shares his travel adventures with readers. In the coming weeks and months Jim will continue to provide photos from their travels and a glimpse of life abroad as he and his wife Jane continue to explore Mauritius in East Africa and then South Africa.