‘“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
    Louisa May Alcott’s immortal opening line popped into my head when I realised we’re now well into December and I have never felt less Christmassy.  It’s not that I want to grumble (and there are no rugs here anyway), it ‘s just that Christmas and the tropics belong in two separate worlds. Mulled wine on the veranda?  I don’t think so.  Christmas carols under the Traveller palm?  Not really.  Fairy lights just look tawdry next to a spectacular technicolour sunset: you need the gloom of a 4.00 pm twilight to set off their sparkly magic.  Snowy nativity scenes in shop windows might melt.  Why would you want turkey and bread sauce when a tuna tartare drenched in lime juice is the optimum meal choice?
Consumer frenzy, however, is a global phenomenon. Driven by the parents’ terror of being too late to pay too much for this year’s must-have piece of plastic American crap (in this case a “Monster High’ figure – pronounced “Mon-stairrrr-eye” in French), we ventured to the local toy mega-store in the totally non-tropical retail park.  The scenes of desperate carnage were all too familiar, except that the tarmac outside was practically bubbling, and every single shopper wore shorts and flip-flops.  The weary check-out girl confessed that Christmas was less of a ‘fête’ and more of a ‘cauchemare’ (nightmare) and she’d be glad when it was over.  Seasonal overkill disorder is universal too.
I’m informed that on the island, partying starts on 20th December, which is the day they commemorate the abolition of slavery – a much more relevant cause for celebration, it seems to me.  I also know from experience that  Reunion’s seasonal spend on fireworks would make a big hole in the UK’s defence budget and the results are spectacular,  as long as you can deal with the overriding impression that you are under bombardment.
There is one natural phenomenon, however, that encapsulates the spirit of Christmas, and that is the flamboyant tree, which bursts into a shameless display of scarlet blossoms, like giant table decorations, at this time of year.  It beats a €35, Chinese-produced artificial Christmas tree hands-down, in my book.
So, believe me, I’m not complaining.  I’d definitely rather be here than on Oxford Street on Christmas Eve, but to paraphrase another immortal line: “It will be Christmas, Jim, but not as we know it.”
Jo Hepplewhite in La Reunion, Indian Ocean