Herbert Ford, 559-592-0980, 559-732-0313.
"HOW'D YOU LIKE TO SPEND CHRISTMAS ON . . . ON PITCAIRN ISLAND?"
ANGWIN (Napa County) Calif., December 24, 1998—Two-square-mile Pitcairn, used in the late 1700s as a hideaway by mutineers of H.M.S. Bounty, is but a fraction of the size of 140-square-mile Christmas Island (the world's largest coral atoll) about which the once-popular Christmas song was written. And Pitcairn's some 3,000 miles south-south-east of Christmas.
But neither its small size nor its isolation in the South Pacific Ocean will stand in the way of Pitcairn's marking of the holiday in traditional if somewhat different fashion.
"It'll be hot because we're in summer time here," reported Pitcairn's radio officer Tom Christian today (Dec. 18) to the Pitcairn Islands Study Center at Pacific Union College in California's Napa Valley. "Rain would force the usual outdoor festivities indoors, but we're hoping it won't happen.
"And right up until the all-island party begins in our public square, some of the 55 people here may be wondering if presents, ordered months ago, will all arrive on time," said Christian. Because the islanders never know when a ship will call at their isolated isle (about mid-way between Panama and New Zealand), it is not unusual to order presents in April or May and hope they arrive in time for Christmas.
"We don't have any malls or supermarkets here," Christian said. "We have a small, general store, our closest stores of any size are 1,200 miles away at Tahiti, but practically all our buying is done from either New Zealand (4,300 miles to the southwest) or the U.S. (4,500 miles north)."
Christmas eve will find Pitcairners going from home to home singing carols that are known around the world.
According to Christian, a sixth generation descendant of Fletcher Christian who led the mutiny on the Bounty against Captain William Bligh in 1789, Christmas day festivities begin with a cutting of local trees called "Jesme," which are set up in the public square.
When the trees are placed and decorated, all island families start hanging gifts for their children and friends. By about 5:30 p.m., with everyone present, selected callers begin to shout out the names of those to receive the presents. The Pitcairners make sure everyone gets something.
"The presents can vary from imported or local foods to toys, and from fancy dresses to fishing tackle. With fish being a protein staple of our diet, and at least one day of each week devoted to fishing, fishing tackle is always a welcome gift here," said Christian.
"We don't dress anyone as Santa Claus; he or she would suffer meltdown."
Once all the presents have been opened, families begin to drift off to their homes, where a number will have individual parties. However, on Pitcairn, with everyone living in a space that is only three or four city blocks long, it isn't unusual for much inter-family visiting to go on at the parties, according to Christian.
A handful of non-Pitcairners currently visiting the island will join in the festivities, Christian said. These include four Australians, four Germans, three Americans, and a former Pitcairner.