Today is November 15. This morning I roused a few Christmas decorations from hibernation and placed them enthusiastically on the mantle as Holiday Radio played non-stop Christmas Classics on my internet radio.
My Joy to the World spirit wasn’t always so. As a child, Christmas was a happy time, a household full of friends and family, music and Grandma Gray’s shortbread. I was in the church junior choir, and my mom, a classically trained contralto who turned mezzo-then-soprano, accompanied us on the piano.
But I have never been at ease with the commercial side of the holiday – it still strikes me odd that we have to buy something for someone – and for as long as I can remember, would volunteer at a home for the elderly, a soup kitchen, or a suicide hot line on December 25. As I got older, I moved around a lot, within Canada and France and eventually Christmas was a day far removed from carols and eggnog with loved ones.
That all changed in November 2008 when I was invited to visit Santa Claus at the opening of Santa’s Village in Lapland, on the border of the Arctic Circle, courtesy of Finnair and Rovaniemi Tourism.
Like any other interview, I did my research. Since 1985, Santa had been greeting some 300,000 visitors each day of the year in his “office” – a welcoming room with a fireplace, sacks of gifts, bookshelves and a photo-taking elf and dominated by a 10 metre cogwheel, known as the earth’s rotation device.
It wasn’t just children who waited for their turn to sit on Santa’s knee. As I made way along the winding corridor, thousands of photos, from international celebrities to public figures with St Nick, lined the walls.
I wrote at the time, “It is here in this room where the untainted faith of our youth, when anything was possible, resurfaces; as though the confession of an innermost wish to a gigantic man in a red suit puts you in good graces with higher powers. It is, quite simply, magic.”
And that’s when it happened. Santa asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and I felt childlike and wide-eyed, I believed anything was possible.
The jadedness that had slowly blinded my vision over all the years melted away and was replaced by hope.
I flew back to Nice and booked a flight to Toronto on December 25 to surprise my family. On Christmas Day, I showed up at my sister’s doorstep and had a truly memorable visit.
I went into the New Year chiming “in 2009, dreams will be mine”. Nine months later, I reconnected with the love of my life, who had proposed to me in 1993 after we met on a French immersion program in Quebec. He moved to France and we married on December 24 in 2010. Yup, he too loves Christmas.
So when I heard last year about the annual Christmas swim in Monaco on December 24, organised by the Association les Amis du Bain de Noël de Monaco, I was ecstatic. My favourite holiday combined with my favourite sport and for charity.
Some 150 people turned out – families with kids, couples on bikes, friends and colleagues – sporting Santa hats, red t-shirts and even costumes to spend a convivial morning on the beach and enjoying the music and entertainment.
This year’s Bain de Noel, 10 am at Larvotto’s Rose des Vents beach, will be the very first time in the event’s thirteen years that the swim will take place on Saturday, December 16, instead of the day before Christmas due to a schedule conflict (no, not with Santa).
Money raised, as always, will be donated to a Monaco-based charitable organisation. This year les Amis du Bain have chosen an association that supports children of the Monaco Police force who are in difficulty – L’Amicale d’Entraide et de Prévoyance des Fonctionnaires de la Sûreté Publique.
On-site registration, €10, includes a raffle ticket, croissants and coffee.
I’m giving a month’s notice in sending out a Monaco Life challenge to all of you – sports groups and clubs (COCC, AS Monaco rugby and friends, BOOST, Club 39), social and non-profit associations (Outward Bound Monaco, Child CARE Monaco, Monaco Air League, TEDx), restaurants and entrepreneurs (Stars’nBars, Blue Coast Brewing Company, MonacoTech, l’Orangerie, Les Femmes Chefs d’Entreprises de Monaco, JCEM), my fellow journalists at Riviera Radio, Monaco-Matin, Monaco Info, and, of course, students at ISM and IUM – whether you live in Monaco or not, to come out and smash last year’s number of 150 participants for the annual Christmas swim.
Before you moan about the cold sea temperature, think about it this way. I’m asking you to stand or dip into the 15°C water for a group photo. Yes, it’s going to be uncomfortable, but facing that challenge for five minutes is nothing compared to what these kids face for an entire lifetime.
Ho, ho, hope … see you December 16.
For more see the Association Les Amis du Bain de Noël de Monaco’s Facebook page @baindenoelmonaco. Article first published November 15, 2017.