If you want to go to Christmas Island for a holiday, you are spoilt for choice. There are several islands going by that name, and by dint of majority, Australia wins the crown as the true Christmas country hands down.
There are five places around the globe that share that name, of which one is an exception, while the others share some characteristics. Let’s start off with the exception.
Christmas Island, Nova Scotia
Christmas Island is not an Island, but a community in Cape Breton. Its name is not derived from the feast day, but from the family name of a native who presumably took his name from the feast. Christmas Island hosts a Gaelic music festival every year in August, and its post office receives letters from stamp
collectors from around the world for its Christmas Island post stamp.
Christmas Island, Kiribati
Today called Kiritimati (pronounce the ‘ti’ as ‘s’ to get the sound right), a direct transliteration of the English Christmas into the local Gilbertese language, the island is part of the Republic of Kiribati. Christmas Island was discovered (by European standards) on Christmas Eve 1777 by Thomas Cook, and hence got its name. Before that it had formed part of the Polynesian trade route for centuries. Today, the entire island is a wildlife sanctuary. The world’s largest coral atoll is also the place that first celebrates New Year.
Little Christmas Island, Tasmania
Little Christmas Island is a small island off the east coast of Tasmania. It forms part of the Schouten Islands, named after the Dutch navigator who rounded the Cape Horn (which he named after his birthplace of Hoorn) in 1616. Little Christmas Island is a Nature Reserve under that name since 2008. Part of its attraction is the abundance of Little Penguins.
Christmas Island, Tasmania
Christmas Island in the Bass Strait is part of the New Year Islands of which the largest, King Island, was discovered in 1798. The island is again a nature reserve. Tasmania holds the distinction of having 19 national parks which cover 40 percent of the territory. All but two of these nature reserve parks are open to the public.
The Territory of Christmas Island, Australia
The Australian territory is the one we normally think of when hearing Christmas Island. Geographically, the volcanic Island in the Indian Ocean lies much nearer to the Indonesian island of Java than to Australia. Together with the Cocos (Keeling) Islands it constitutes the Australian Indian Ocean Territories. William Mynors named the island when he arrived there on Christmas Day 1643, but he and his men were too craven to disembark. In 1688, the pirates of the Cygnet under William Dampier were the first to go on land and find it uninhabited.
The highest elevation on the island is Murray Hill (no, nothing to do with Tennis or Wimbledon), named after the explorer and geologist John Murray. And when phosphate and lime were discovered, the Island was finally annexed by the British Crown in 1888. Originally administrated by the Crown Colony of Singapore, it was transferred to Australia in 1957.
What seemed like a good idea at the time has turned out to become a permanent embarrassment. The Australian government had to deal with streams of refugees from the late 1980s onwards and has led to legislation that seems, coming from a nation dominated by Europeans, to be racist. Had the same legislation been passed by Singapore, nobody would bat an eye. The law states that Christmas Island is not part of Australia proper (so to speak), and that any refugees arriving there may be shipped back to wherever they came from.
Christmas Island is another nature paradise. The migration of the red land crabs is usually named as one of the wonders of the natural world. The crabs suffer from the invasion of a foreign belligerent ant, against which no measures taken so far have proven effective. Two thirds of the island is a nature reserve. Though several local species have gone extinct since the advent of settlers in the 19th century, the islands fauna and flora are still rich and of immense value to science.