Throughout the years, Christmastime on our islands has always been a major milestone of the winter season. For the Marco Beach Boys, Christmas on the beach has always been entertaining—and made even more so—by all of the people and personalities that graced our lives. The character and vibrancy of each and every Beach Boy or Girl who walked up and asked for a job has always left a unique signature on every other member of our crew.
On many occasions, newcomers to the Beach Boy crew were met with trepidation and doubt. In the beginning, everyone was American born and basically from the same background, but when our boss Jim came down one day and announced, “I’ve hired a redneck.” Our world as we knew it fell apart. At the time, there were only four Beach Boys and we were flustered, frustrated, and more than anxious to meet the new addition from cowboy country in central Florida.
All of our doubts were rapidly erased, however, when Timmy L came on board with a positive attitude and a very polite manner. Timmy always answered with, “Yes mam, or no sir,” to everyone—even to people his own age—and his down-home Florida cowboy customs became easily acceptable for all the others that worked by his side.
The next cultural challenge for the Beach Boys was when Jim came down and announced, “I’ve hired a Mexican.” This brought more concerns about how well we would manage cultural differences until we met our new addition named Carlos. We loved him at once. Carlos was cool; he was formally a divemaster from Cozumel Mexico. He could drive any boat, teach sailing, and he knew the aquatic environment better than most. Carlos was one of us and we knew at once his feelings were the same.
The following addition to our crew came just ahead of a Christmas season, when Jim once again came down with the announcement, “I’ve hired a German.”
When Jim introduced us to JP—Jean Pierre—we thought at first Jim was mistaken with JP’s country of origin. This quickly changed when JP starting speaking English with a German accent and explained that he was born in a little village near the French border and his mother liked everything French. In no time at all, JP was one of us. He was a hard worker, he came in early and stayed late and he was very good at sailing and general seamanship, and like Timmy, and Carlos, JP was also very cool with a fun-loving personality.
In the days leading up to the busy Christmas season, one of the less glamorous jobs of December was to clean all of the lounge chairs for the many guests that were coming for the holidays. Mildew has always been an enemy in the south Florida environment, and over time, all of the chairs needed a good cleaning with bleach. All 700 of them.
The old saying of “whistle while you work” might hold true for some, but for the Marco Beach Boys during the chair cleaning ritual, we shared stories from our homes and each of our lives.
Timmy began with his Christmas traditions in central Florida and explained that when Christmas was over, the Florida cowboy folk gathered up all the old dried out trees and made a giant bonfire for New Year’s Eve.
Carlos related his childhood Mexican tradition of Las Posadas. He explained that posadas means “inn” in Spanish, and from the 16th of December until Christmas Eve, all the children of a neighborhood would go singing door to door every evening and asking if there was any room at the inn. This was to symbolize Mary and Joseph searching for shelter. After the Mexican caroling was complete, each night was then celebrated by a Posadas party.
After Carlos described his childhood Christmas, JP from Germany joined in to tell us his rendition of Christmas in Deutschland.
“Oh, Carlos,” JP teased with good nature. “What a charming little Christmas adventure you have in Mexico. And Timmy, your cowboy bonfire sounds like something the boy scouts would do.”
JP then paused as he flipped a beach chair for cleaning the underside. “Let me tell you,” JP began in earnest with his German accent. “Yes of course, these traditions are nice and polite, but in Germany, all the children are a little frightened of what Christmas might bring.” After this statement, everyone stopped cleaning and looked up.
“Do you mean that in Germany the kids are afraid of Christmas?” Timmy asked with amazement. “What do you mean frightened?”
“So,” JP smiled, “Forgive me. I did not say that the children in Germany are afraid of Christmas. I said that the children in Germany are afraid of what Christmas might bring.”
At this point, all chair cleaning activities stopped as JP leaned on his chair cleaning brush and with his wonderful accent, launched into the legend of the Knecht Ruprecht.
“In Germany,” JP’s tale began, “we also have Father Christmas who is basically Santa Claus. He looks the same with the red coat, and trousers and hat. But in Germany, Santa Claus has a helper who rides beside him in the sleigh. This is the Knecht Ruprecht and he looks very different from elves or Santa Claus. This is a scary figure wearing all black and he carries a big bag of coal and a long walking stick. Everywhere Father Christmas goes, the Knecht Ruprecht goes with him. Throughout Germany, this is a story that is well known. Santa or Father Christmas brings the bag of toys for the good girls and boys, but the Knecht Ruprecht comes along in case the children have been bad or disobedient to their parents.
“Every year, the parents will ask the children if they have been good. The kids almost always answer, ‘Yes,’ because they know if they have been bad, the big, tall, rough man dressed entirely in black with soot on his face will beat the children with his walking stick and fill the bad kids’ stockings with coal.”
“Damn,” Timmy drawled, that sounds pretty rough. “This big guy in black whips the kids if they’ve been bad? Even the little kids might get a whipping?”
JP came back fast, “Yes, of course. That’s why I said the children are afraid of what Christmas might bring.”
“That does sound scary,” Carlos spoke up. “Did you ever see this Christmas villain dressed in black?”
“Yes of course,” JP replied, “but when you’re young, you don’t know that the Knecht Ruprecht is your uncle or your neighbor with coal dust all over his face. Especially when all the kids are looking at the walking stick that might be trouble.”
A few days later, Jim came down to the beach hut and announced, “I’ve hired a girl,” and we all dropped everything to stop and stare. After watching our reactions, Jim smiled and offered. “She won’t be a stranger to all of you. She’s JP’s wife Christine.”
The next day, Christine arrived dressed in Beach Boy shorts and a golf shirt. She verified the Knecht Ruprecht Christmas story, and once again we were fascinated with the international implications of Christmas. We were also very impressed with Christine from Hamburg. She was our very first Beach Girl ever and she was beautiful.
The second Beach Girl arrives next week.
Tom Williams is a Marco islander. He is the author of two books, “Lost and Found” and “Surrounded by Thunder –the Story of Darrell Loan and the Rocket Men.” Both books are available on Kindle and Nook.