The first Christmas catalogues have begun drifting into my mailbox, but I am not put off. Hints of that merry season have been swirling around for months.
Recently, as I reached for a straw hat from a closet shelf, I was grazed by a falling star of red plaid ribbon.
My mother made this ornament during a crafts class on board the Royal Princess as we cruised off Cartagena, Colombia. She presented it to me with a look of triumph and said she would hand it over as soon as she could separate it from the glue on her fingers.
That cruise had begun in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on a hot and heavy night when the breeze by the harbor seemed more piquant than perfumed. Mother turned at the gangway and saw the source: a midnight forest of firs and spruce and a sign saying: "Christmas trees arrive Nov. 28. Feliz Navidad."
And we were there.
We also were at the Havensight mall in St. Thomas when shopkeepers began decorating for the holidays.
They used agave plants, which they had sprayed gold or silver and then hung with fat red bows. A steel-drum band played "Jingle Bells" near Bruno's bar at dockside, where cold fruit punch was a hot item and the flap of a ceiling fan was welcome.
Our ship was dressed in its Sunday best, with flags from stem to stern. And the duty-free shops, with those tempting bargains, opened their doors that Sunday because we were in port.
From the armloads of bags from A. H. Riise and Fendi leathers, from the Scandinavian shop and Caribbean marketplace, it was evident that our 1,200 passengers indulged in giving and receiving.
At dinner, men sported new jackets of crisp Madras plaids; women wore necklaces of beads and shells crafted by Danish designers. Trinkets, T-shirts and scarfs of batik were being marked for children and grandchildren.
Everyone who compared purchases--and wished they had bought more--began writing shopping lists for the call at Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles, where prices matched St. Thomas on luxuries from watches to fine linens and perfumes.
The Dutch heritage of Willemstad is reflected in the architecture and in shop names such as New Amsterdam, where you can buy gift certificates in Dutch florin that are also good at New Amsterdam branches in Aruba and St. Maarten.
Holland's Amstel beer is brewed on this island and gets raves for its crisp taste, which they credit to the water that is filtered through crushed coral.
Mother and I sat on the balcony of our stateroom as we sailed west from Curacao and the sun poured gold into the sea.
We decided to celebrate by opening one gift early: a chilled bottle of Dom Perignon. I had never uncorked champagne before, although I had seen it done in the movies. Slowly I began untwisting the wires as I pointed the neck toward the sky. The cork came out with a civil, soft pop--no explosion, no splash, no spray.
We toasted our friendship and the voyage we shared. And we prayed for a Happy New Year.