I have two nieces who, along with their families, call islands their homes. One lives on Hawaii’s Oahu, her house perched on the cliffs above Honolulu with sweeping ocean views to the west. The other lives in Brisbane, on the east coast of Australia. Sure, Australia isn’t really an island, though it is surrounded by water. By definition its landmass makes it a continent instead. But Australia does lay claim to a few islands off its shores. Including one named “Christmas”.
Imagine living in a world so small you can walk from one end to the other in less than two hours. Your fellow islanders are so few, your entire social life is like living in a college dorm. Your diet consists of fruits, nuts, and crab. Lots and lots of crab. And the single contribution you and your island-mates make to the outside world is phosphorous from your underground mines. That, in a crab shell, is life on Christmas Island.
The first time someone told me there was a “Christmas Island”, I was young enough to be watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer every December on TV. My favorite part of Rudolph’s story was the “Island of Misfit Toys”. You remember, don’t you? Rudolph was the reindeer-a non grata, mocked by the others because of his shiny nose. Along with a couple other outcasts (Hermie, Santa’s elf who’d rather be a dentist, and Yukon Cornelius, the prospector who can never find silver or gold), Rudolph discovers the Island of Misfit Toys. The island is a repository for unwanted toys. As sad as that sounds, Rudolph’s island brings Christmas to mind much more than the little landmass I’m talking about today.
If you wonder why you’d ever visit Christmas Island, consider almost 65% of the island is a national park of unspoiled rainforest, with walking paths past 25 species of trees and 135 species of plants. The only animals you’ll spy in the forest include the “flying fox” fruit bat, the recently introduced Javan deer, and the golden bosun (the island’s “official” bird). Outside of the forest however, it’s impossible to miss the crabs. Coconut crabs. Red crabs. Thirteen different species of land crabs, let alone those who prefer the ocean. And here’s the best part. Every year, one hundred million of them migrate from solid ground to water (to spawn), a sight mind-blowing enough to be called “one of the wonders of the natural world”.
Watch the following short video on the chaotic Christmas Island crab migration. Makes you wonder how you can walk anywhere without getting “crabs”. If this is something you simply must see in person, find your way to Perth on Australia’s western mainland, and book one of two weekly flights to Christmas Island courtesy of Virgin Airlines. Your 3+ hours in the air will take you over nothing but the vast Indian Ocean.
It’s high time we addressed the most burning question about our little fa-la-la land down under. Why is it named Christmas Island? Here are popular theories. One, “The rainforest is made up of nothing but evergreen (Christmas) trees.” Two (for the geographically challenged), “The island is the closest landmass to the North Pole.” And three “Christmas Island was the origin of the species diospyros virginiana, more commonly known as the sugar plum tree.” The correct answer? None of the above. In the 1600s, European explorer Richard Rowe first set foot on the island, doing so on December 25th. With no more creativity than a glance at the calendar, his discovery was dubbed Christmas Island.
I’ve got a much better “Christmas Island” for you. Flip over to just off the east coast of Australia and you’ll find an even tinier landmass called Norfolk Island. It’s about a quarter the size of Christmas, with the same number of inhabitants. But Norfolk Island’s primary export is much more “Christmas” than phosphorous. It is the evergreen Norfolk Island pine, a popular ornamental tree in Australia. My wife and I found one at Home Depot a few years ago and bought it for her mother. For small spaces, Norfolk Island pines make great Christmas trees.
In defense of Christmas Island, there’s more going on within its shores than phosphorous and crabs. Most of the residents live in the northern area of the island surrounding a coastal region known as Flying Fish Cove. They speak one or more of five different languages. There’s a high school and a public library. There’s even a cricket club, which just celebrated sixty years in the game. And most fitting to this time of year, twenty percent of the population call themselves Christians. In other words, despite the uninspiring reason for its name, Christmas really does come to Christmas Island.
Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.