Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas on Christmas Island

I've been hearing the old novelty song "Christmas Island" a lot more these past couple Decembers, and I thought it was high time to find out where it came from. First, here are the lyrics...
Let's get away from sleigh bells
Let's get away from snow
Let's make a break some Christmas
I know the place to go
How'd ya like to spend Christmas
On Christmas Island?
How'd ya like to spend the holiday
Away across the sea?
How'd ya like to spend Christmas
On Christmas Island?
How'd ya like to hang a stocking
On a great big coconut tree?

How'd ya like to stay up late
Like the islanders do?
Wait for Santa to sail
In with your presents in a canoe
If you ever spend Christmas
On Christmas Island
You will never stray for everyday
Your Christmas dreams come true

The song was written by Lyle Moraine (1914-1988) in 1946 and was first recorded that same year by the Andrews Sisters, backed by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians. It made it to #7 on the pop charts that year and stayed in the public eye throughout the 1940s. It's been recorded by a number of other folks over the decades. (The recent version I keep hearing on "Musak" is from Jimmy Buffett.)

Moraine had lots of bit parts in movies, but never became a star. He also wrote other songs, but "Christmas Island" was his most noteworthy hit.

So, how WOULD ya like to spend Christmas on the actual Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean?

That depends. But it seems unlikely that "your Christmas dreams" would come true." 

Discovered on Christmas Day in 1643, by an English East India Company ship, tiny Christmas Island is now home to just over 2,000 people and scads of horrifying-looking "coconut crabs" -- the largest land-living arthropod on earth. They have powerful claws and can climb trees. (So there might be several right above your head just waiting to drop down on you!) They are also known as "robber crabs" which lead me to believe they may have long arrest records we should be concerned about.
A coconut crab looking for Christmas leftovers. Ho, ho, ho!
 If that weren't enough, another 100 million red crabs migrate across Christmas Island each year in one enormous herd, or gaggle,... or whatever you call a large group of crabs. (I think a "floozie of crabs" has a certain ring to it.)

And once you get past the fauna, you'll find that only a minority of Christmas Island residents even celebrate Christmas. Although it's a territory of Australia, the population is mostly of Chinese descent. The religious break-down is about 75% Buddhist, 12% Christian, and 10% Muslim.

But those who do celebrate the day do so with a combination of Christian and Micronesian traditions that include multiple days of dance and choir performances.

No, you won't see "Santa sail in with your presents in a canoe." But you may meet some Asian refugees who've drifted around the ocean in various rickety boats. These days, Christmas Island is largely known as a way-station and detention center for refugees wanting to come to Australia.

And although, as a Southern Californian, I'm all in favor of a sunny Christmas, it does seem like there should be a little snap in the air during the holidays. You won't find that on Christmas Island either. The average low temperature is 65 degrees, and the average high temperature is in the low 80s,... all month,... every month.

In short, you're probably better off enjoying Christmas wherever you already live. Please do so.

Merry Christmas to all!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Tiki Talk Tomorrow!

It's strange to post about myself in the third person, but here's the blurb that's being used...

Chris Jepsen will speak about the history of the "Polynesian Pop" phenomenon of the 1950s and '60s as it applied to Orange County, California at the Garden Grove Historical Society, 12174 Euclid Ave., Garden Grove, (tomorrow!) Tuesday, May 6, 2014, at 7:00 p.m . Island attire is encouraged but not mandatory. The event is open to everyone -- not just Society members.

From architecture, décor and music, to literature, theme parks and backyard luaus, the South Seas was a wildly popular theme throughout Mid-Century America. This was especially true in sunny Orange County, where primitive carved figures, grass huts, 'Aloha shirts,' and lush jungle landscaping seemed right at home.

Chris Jepsen is a local historian, Assistant Archivist at the Orange County Archives, and president of the Orange County Historical Society. He also writes the "Ask the O.C. Answer Man" column for Orange Coast Magazine and operates two blogs: The O.C. History Roundup and Tiki Lagoon.

(Note: The photo above was shot in Dana Point, overlooking San Juan Capistrano and Old SaddlebackThe tiki is bit of original 1960s backyard décor that has been in the same family for many decades now.)