The Best Family Christmas Ever
It is always a wonderful Christmas when we can get all of our kids and grandkids together to celebrate the holiday. This year’s gathering was at a sandy beach resort on the Mayan Riviera in Mexico.
The Ackerman Gang at Akumal Akumal Bay - Yucatan - Mexico
We’ve had a lot of “Best Family Christmas Evers” through the years. Alternating our bi-annual holiday get-togethers between beach holidays and ski vacations, we’ve enjoyed Christmas holidays in the sun from Hawaii to the Caribbean and in the snow from Sun Valley to Lake Tahoe, but our 2005 Christmas will rank up there as one of the best BFCE’s of all times as we gathered – now eighteen of us in all - at a Mexican beach resort on the Mayan Riviera of the Yucatan peninsula.
Our homes for the week were five small rented bungalows, one for each family, in the sleepy town of Akumal, fifty miles south of Cancun. The Akumal Caribe resort is a quaint, intimate, family-owned resort nestled among the palm trees, which line Akumal Bay with its blue-green waters and glistening white beaches. With its own beach, swimming pool, grocery store and with four restaurants on-site to choose from, it proved to be an ideal spot for a family vacation.
Our daily routine began with breakfast in our bungalow for the grandkids allowing their parents a few extra hours of sleep, a morning swim, PB&J sandwiches in the room or on the beach, another swim or a book read on a beach chair under the palms in the afternoon and then dinner at one of the open air, beachside restaurants. With all eighteen of us sharing the evening meal together, we occasionally taxed the seating capacity of some of the smaller restaurants. Following dinner, as the adults watched the sun go down over a final beer or cup of coffee, the kids headed back down to the beach for a game of tag or hide-and-seek.
The long, crescent shaped beach was protected by a coral reef about two hundred feet from shore making the beach a very safe place for the four youngest grandchildren – Denis, Ellierose, Elena and Zachary - to build sand castles or splash in the warm waters, while the older kids snorkeled out to the reef to explore the hundreds of brightly colored fish, sea turtles, rays and squid, which called the reef their home.
Accompanied by their dads, the four oldest grandchildren – Maddie, Isabel, Duncan and Miles – went out past the reef into the gulf one day on a deep sea fishing expedition and returned a few hours later with four good-sized barracuda. Since the boat captain also owned one of the local restaurants, he arranged to cook the fish for our dinner. They tasted surprisingly good especially to the proud, young fishermen.
While it may have been a little difficult to create an old-fashioned Christmas setting in our tropical resort, Valerie did manage to decorate our room with ornaments, tinsel and even a small Christmas tree which she brought down from the north in her suitcase. Fortunately, Santa Claus responded to our change-of-address notification and filled all of the children’s stockings on Christmas Eve and left stacks of brightly wrapped gifts piled on the floor under the little tree. The first little knocks at our door began shortly after sunrise. A flurry of ripping and tearing lasted most of Christmas morning along with a lot of squeals of joy and happy faces.
The Stockings Were Hung With Care in Hopes ... A Pyramid of Grandkids
I’m told that Santa Claus, with his white beard, stocking cap and all, even made a brief appearance at the window with a jolly ho-ho-ho to wish all of the children a Merry Christmas. Unfortunately, I missed seeing him since I happened to be out of the room at the time. In keeping with the Mexican holiday traditions, all the kids at the resort had a chance later in the day to take a swing at a big piñata, which eventually broke open spilling piles of candy on the ground to the delight of the children.
Although it was difficult to leave our seaside paradise, we did venture out to a couple of nearby attractions during the course of the week. Just ten miles away is a remarkable ecological and recreational park called Xel-Ha, located in a natural lagoon that was once a safe harbor and port-of-call for ancient Mayan sailors. Laced with a labyrinth of natural waterways and paths through the jungle, the park encompasses a lagoon of transparent turquoise water teeming with tropical fish, large cenotes (fresh water sink holes) and a fresh water river which flows through a deep mangrove forest. There was plenty to do for everyone in the family as we tubed down the river, snorkeled in the lagoons, explored underwater caves and hiked through the jungle.
A second day trip was to the nearby Mayan ruins of Tulum. Dating back to the 6th century, this Mayan city was an important seaport during the peak of the Mayan civilization (1200 to 1500 AD), which extended from lower Mexico down through Central America. Although not as important as Chichen Itza, Tekal, Copan and some of the other larger Mayan sites we've visited, Tulum’s greatest attraction is its location, built on a tall bluff and looking out over a spectacular view of the Caribbean. In its day it was a major link in the Maya’s extensive trade network with both maritime and land routes converging there. While we all enjoyed exploring the ancient ruins, I think the kids were most interested in the many iguanas, who are now the primary residents of this once magnificent city.
Mayan Ruins at Tulum Maddie, Isabel and their Feathered Friends
Although it may not have been a traditional Christmas - with palm trees, tacos and sand substituting for Christmas trees, turkey and snow, it certainly would go down as one of our most memorable Christmases and certainly well deserving of its “Best Family Christmas Ever” designation.
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