Children copy! They especially copy their parents – and as they grow older, they also copy some of their peers. That’s a normal part of childhood.

Although the last school year was full of ups and downs, highs and lows and successes and disappointments, many teachers across the country are hopeful that things will be better this new academic year. This is what some teachers had to say when asked how their last school year was and what they are most hopeful for this new school year.

You never know when an acquaintance might grow into a friendship, a tiny seed that has the potential to sprout. Given the proper care and conditions, it might just bloom into a romance. And if you’re very lucky, it might even take root deep into the soil and evolve into a marriage and a family. Such care and conditions are a rarity, but when it all comes together, it’s a story worth sharing and treasuring.


Sjorensly and Glenda’s relationship begins with one such story – a mutual interest, a casual encounter and a spark; a recognition of kindred spirits. The couple is now a burgeoning family, with smiles that reflect the care and conditions that still nourish their love.


It all started when a mutual friend, DJ Spy, started an online chat room. On New Year's Day 2002, Spy decided to have an online party. Glenda, being friends with Spy from high school, took it upon herself to play the role of hype-man for the party, which basically meant she tried her best to keep the chats going in the room.


By the end of the party, there were approximately five people left in the chat, Spy, Glenda, Sjorensly, and two others, who interestingly became a couple for a while – quite a chat room! By this time, Sjorensly was so impressed with the awesomeness of Glenda (their word!) that he asked her if they could chat outside of the internet. She agreed and so began their friendship. The fragile seed was planted.


Sjorensly eventually came down to St. Maarten on vacation and it was on this vacation that they met in person for the first time. One day while on Mullet Bay Beach, Glenda spotted him sitting among his friends as she walked back towards her dad's bar. Not sure if it was really he, she watched closely and eventually walked towards him and introduced herself. They met a few times after that encounter and shared a few phone calls. The seed was sprouting.


They both found each other easy to talk to, which explains why they talked nearly every day throughout the early days of their friendship. It took almost 10 years of friendship and persistence for Glenda to see what Sjorensly knew all along. She saw the potential of someone who would be there for her, someone with whom she could share her life. The flower was beginning to bloom.


Then on January 27, 2015, during a trip to Curaçao to celebrate Sjorensly's grandmother's 70th birthday, they decided to take a leap of faith and see what happened next. Glenda knew Sjorensly was planning to propose, but she didn’t know that he had already spoken to her parents, his parents, and pretty much all the friends they usually hung around with about his plan to propose while they were in Curaçao.


On the night of his grandmother's birthday party, Sjorensly proclaimed, "I know what I'm going to give Grandma for her birthday." Then he disappeared. When he returned, he took the stage with his grandmother to make a speech and present her with a gift. Wanting to capture the moment, Glenda was standing in front of the stage to take pictures.


Sjorensly begins his speech, “I'm going to speak English so my girlfriend can understand.” Then he proceeded to tell his grandmother how he intends to contribute to the growth of the family. At this point, Glenda is totally confused wondering how exactly he is planning to grow the family. It all makes sense when he calls her up to the stage with them and there in front of his entire family gets down on one knee and asks her to be his wife.


One year and seven months later, the flower was in full bloom. On Mullet Bay Beach, Sjorensly and Glenda became husband and wife in front of family, friends and the most important guest of all – their unborn daughter.

Why is it that reserved people, folks you would normally never see on the dance floor, would somehow find the courage to get up and shake their booty at a wedding reception? There is something about a wedding that is liberating, the normal walls and rules of behaviour fall away and we just let go.

The magic of a wedding is the celebration of life, knowing the circle continues; the past is prologue and here we go again. You think and you drink. What do you drink? Champagne! What do you think? Love is not a fairy tale. It involves sacrifice and compromise, frustrations and challenges. But however difficult the situation, when it is meant to be, it is worth fighting for – and worth dancing about!

We’ve all seen it when friends and family have tied the knot – we see the ceremony so traditional and respectful; we see the gleeful exit, the tossing of rice or birdseed, the bubbles, and then we go to the reception hall for food, drink, toasts and music.

First the bride and groom take to the floor; they share their first dance as husband and wife. This is usually a waltz or some romantic slow dance. They gaze into each other’s eyes with smiles that won’t stop. We all sigh watching this love unfold before our eyes. Then comes the traditional dance with the parents of the couple; sometimes the bride dances with her father-in-law while the groom nervously shuffles up to his new mother-in-law and asks her to join him on the dance floor. Whether a band or a deejay is the source of the tunes, invariably the mood shifts from heartfelt sentimentality to “Hey gang! Let’s party like there’s no tomorrow!”

After a few drinks, a brave soul or three will find their way to the middle of the floor to show the rest how it’s done. Before long, all those who would normally sit on the sidelines are drawn to be a part of the fun. Here’s where the real amazement starts. The elderly uncles, the stodgy old geezers come out and clap hands, bounce, sway and sometimes even find the beat! You can see some dance moves that have been hidden away for decades suddenly stealing the show!

Again, who knows the real reason behind this phenomenon? But I’m glad it exists. It’s a strong symbol of the joy of the day and the specialness of the occasion that everyone – EVERYONE – feels inspired to dance, to cast away inhibitions and worries, forget sadness and celebrate the new love and all the promises of the future. So be the brave soul that leads the others to the floor, and dance like nobody’s watching!

“I hate his dad-jokes,” Sian Cassidy exclaims!

“They will grow on her,” Daniel Hodge laughs loudly; and Sian can’t seem to help but laugh as well.

I’d describe Daniel as exuberant and wild looking, while Sian is more reserved and elegant. Despite their surface differences, they quickly fell in love when circumstances led them to discover each other’s underlying layers. Now engaged; they began dating, moved in together and started a family – all in fewer than two years since becoming a couple.

I have admired their relationship from afar, so on a sunny noon, I met the couple for an interview over a decadent cup of coffee. I was curious to know how their story had started, why they worked so well together and what their wedding plans were.


How did you guys first meet?

Sian: We actually have known each other for close to 12 years. I met him at the house of my then-boyfriend. He was a friend of his brother.

Daniel: I don't think she liked me too much! She never talked to me back then.

Sian: Why would I talk to you? You were a friend of a friend and you had a girlfriend!

Daniel: Although she obviously didn’t pay me any mind, one of my first vivid memories of her is during that time. She was painting a mural with Nour, an old mutual friend of ours, and I thought to myself, “Wow! This girl is quite talented.”


When did Daniel make an impression?

Sian: During the Regatta about two years ago, in 2015. We were working for the same company at the time and ended up spending a lot of time together.

Daniel: We had known each other for so long, but it was then that we became good friends. She showed me sides to her I had never seen before; she was sensitive, caring and we had both gone through some rough relationships in the past.

Sian: Unexpectedly, my father passed away and I left for England.

Daniel: I realized I was thinking about her all the time, wondering if she was okay and wishing that I was with her.

Sian: I was having a really hard time. Daniel would check up on me every day, which helped me a lot.

Daniel: When she came back, I knew I cared for her as more than a friend, but did not know if she felt the same.


So how did your first kiss happen?

Sian: It was tequila-fuelled at a party at 3 Amigos.

Daniel: I was nervous and hesitant to compromise our friendship; but in a moment of bravery, I just went for it!

Sian: I did not expect it at all!

Daniel: BUT she kissed back!


How did that kiss evolve into a relationship?

Sian: A few days later, we went on a boat trip with friends and someone asked Daniel if I was his girlfriend.

Daniel: And I basically blurted out “YES!” Quickly afterward, I thought, “Maybe I should have consulted her about this first.” But she went along with it and it turned out to be a great day.


What happened from then?

Sian: Everything moved very quickly but comfortably.

Daniel: It’s strange. You go through these steps in most relationships: Meeting, butterflies, dating, falling in love, coexisting, etc. Yes, if you are counting the days, our relationship seemed to have evolved quickly; but with Sian, the whole progression felt so natural.

Sian: Even getting pregnant – although unexpected and soon – somehow freaked us out less than it was supposed to.


Tell us about your baby.

Sian: On February 16, 2016, our beautiful baby boy Jaxon was born. He’s a very busy, smart and mischievous little man.

Daniel: He’s definitely a little too smart for his own good sometimes.

Sian: He’s also very stubborn! Every single diaper change is still a battle.

Daniel: But he’s so much fun; he’s developing his own little character and taking little bits and pieces of the both of us, and it makes for a pretty awesome kid!


When did you start talking about marriage?

Sian: When we first found out I was pregnant, we talked about it. We wanted to formulate a plan.

Daniel: I already knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.

Sian: Although I loved Daniel very much already, I did not want to rush into things. I did not want to get married just because I was pregnant. I wanted to get married for “us.”

Daniel: When she told me that, it took a weight off my shoulders. I am a guy who likes to do things the right way the first time; and to do that, you need the time, and she gave me that.

Sian: Besides, I wanted to drink on our big day; so either way, any wedding plans would just have had to wait!


Sounds like you guys communicate well. Is that one of the secrets to a successful relationship?

Daniel: It’s a learning process, and as you grow together, you figure out how to deal with each other’s differences.

Sian: No relationship is perfect, but when we do disagree, it is on something that’s often insignificant. You have to choose your battles. When we do disagree, we could argue for hours as we are both hard-headed. So you have to just be able to lay your egos aside and decide, “Is this important?”

Daniel l: I think we’re lucky that our core morals and values coincide with each other’s. We’re working towards something together. What is important is that I still want to sit next to Sian on the couch after work together, make dinner together and wake up together.

Sian: One thing we will never agree on are his dad-jokes… they are horrible! I hate them!

Daniel: But they are so good, though! They’ll grow on her.


What is something that you appreciate about each other?

Daniel: She always has a plan. I have never been a planner, but Sian is, and that is a much more productive way to go through life!

Sian: I think I am more of an open person when I am around Daniel. He is my home, so wherever I am with him, I feel more comfortable.


Tell me more about the engagement!

Daniel: It was months of planning. I wanted it to be a surprise, and for her not to suspect anything so I never brought up marriage in those months.

Sian: I did not suspect a thing!

Daniel: Somehow, I managed to get away for short moments of the day to plan and, most difficult of all, to buy the engagement ring. I don’t think there’s a man in all human history that enjoys picking out the engagement ring for his girlfriend. It had to be perfect. I had a bit of help from close friends and finally found the perfect ring.

Sian: Looking back now, I should’ve suspected something!


And how did the plans pan out?

Daniel: The surprise engagement took place on Mullet Bay beach. Invited friends and I tried our best to make it seem like any regular beach-day.

Sian: I should’ve known when I got to the beach. Usually, everyone shows up late, but everyone was already at the beach this time; there was food and a lot of champagne in the coolers.

Daniel: The original plan was that we would go for a walk, and my mom would send Sian four pictures of our son Jaxon, who she was babysitting. The last picture would be of Jaxon in a shirt saying, “Will you marry daddy?”

Sian: It didn’t exactly go as planned.

Daniel: We forgot the phone on our walk, our friends were acting super awkward and when my mom finally did send the pictures, Sian was snacking on some chips. I knocked over her wine glass as I went down on one knee, and almost ruined the entire moment.

Sian: It was messy, chaotic and perfectly “us”!


Are you already planning the wedding?

Sian: Yes! Although we will probably wait till summer 2018

Daniel: We talk about it most nights actually.

Sian: We’re pretty sure we’ve found the colour scheme and I know what type of dress I want – Pinterest is really helpful with adding inspiration to our ideas.

Daniel: A beach wedding sounds perfect to us – a fun, low-key event with all of the people we love.


Any last works on having a great relationship?

Sian & Daniel: Be patient with each other. Learn as much as you can about each other. Become best friends and then marry one another!


Contributed by Laura Bijnsdorp

by Tom Burnett

   Shawn Blair is The Daily Herald Sports Person of the Year for 2016. Blair is a two-time Caribbean Boxing Champion, a silver medallist in the New York Golden Gloves, a trainer, a boxing referee and now president of the St. Maarten Boxing Association.

Blair was instrumental in getting St. Maarten accepted into the AIBA (International Boxing Association.) “We [St. Maarten] are the two-hundred-and-first member of AIBA,” said Blair. “This will open doors for our coaches, trainers and young boxers.”

 Blair has fought 44 times and lost only four. He has had four pro fights, winning two, drawing once with only one loss. For Blair, worse than the loss was the pain of training hard for months for a fight that was then cancelled at the last minute; this occurred mostly money issues.

During his career he has trained hard and occasionally been disappointed not by his performance but by promoters. Once he was told the day before he was to leave for a bout that he could not go because there was no money.

Not long ago St. Maarten was to host a boxing tournament. By then Blair was a trainer and had prepared younger boxers. Fighters actually arrived on Island only to be turned away as accommodation had not been secured to the athletes. Even this year, the 2016 event was cancelled.

 Blair, known in the ring as the Pit Bull, started boxing in 1992. Right from the start, he was a beast in the ring. He won gold in the welterweight division of the Caribbean Amateur Boxing Championships in the Bahamas back in 2003 for his second Caribbean Gold medal. The name “Pit Bull” stuck with him even after he traded in his gloves for a trainer’s towel.

In 2012 Dr. Grace Spencer, who sat ringside for local boxing matches, said, "I really respect Shawn. He never gives up. He always has a positive attitude and two of his boxers just returned with good results."

   Blair travelled with Gregorio Denis and Akeem Williams to the Ronald Wilson Boxing Tournament in Barbados. The pair won gold, even though during their training cycle they lost the use of their training facility. Un-fazed, Blair worked the athletes outdoors on the Great Bay Beach Promenade.

By August 2013 Blair had established the Progressive Style Boxing Gym Foundation. President of the new foundation, Susanna Velasquez, said, "This has been a dream of Shawn's for a long time. Shawn, like all of us, believes you have to train the mind as well as the body."

   Unlike traditional gyms with a ring, punching bags and other sports equipment, Blair wants computers in the gym. "We want to establish a safe place where kids can come to do their homework and exercise," said Velasquez.

In 2015 Blair was the coach for two local boxers entering the ring for their first fight at the Caribbean Development Boxing Tournament held in the Cliff Anderson Sports Auditorium, in Georgetown, Guyana. The one of his fighters, Egmar Cozier, won a gold medal.

This year after being elected president of the St. Maarten Boxing Association Blair was determined to return to the Caribbean Development Boxing Tournament. The competition and regional meeting of Caribbean boxing members was to be held in Barbados.

The boxing association had too little money so Blair went looking for help. Many people stepped up. One was Gromyko Wilson. “I support him all the way,” said Wilson. “I believe we have great potential in the athletes in St. Maarten. I did this via my 721news sports section of the website.” But neither were satisfied with just Barbados.

At the Caribbean Development Boxing Tournament Blair met International Boxing Association President Dr. Ching-Kuo Wu. Dr. Wu outlined how AIBA planned to help develop the region’s boxing with marketing, competitions and training courses.

   Blair wanted St. Maarten in on the program. He was invited to Switzerland to AIBA’s 75th Anniversary Extraordinary Congress to lobby for St. Maarten membership. Unfortunately Blair had only a month to raise the funds, but even that did not even slow down the Pit Bull. He turned to Wilson again and his family and friends. People like Jacinth M. Chemont, Bryan Labega, Roselina Fiacques, Floyd Skeete, Sergio Procasi, and Kathy Harper Hall all believed in Blair and helped out. This led to St. Maarten being accepted as the newest member of International Boxing Association (AIBA.)

“I supported him all the way to get the SXM Boxing listed on AIBA,” said Wilson. “With this accomplishment St. Maarten Boxing can benefit from international support. “I have plans for boxing on St. Maarten,” said Blair. “We used to have some 23 fighters on the Island. I want to get back to that.”

Blair went on to say he wants the individual gyms and clubs to prepare fighters, and then when ready the boxers will move up and train with the national team coach. “We are recognized internationally. St. Maarten has always won Gold at the Caribbean Championship, and now in AIBA our young boxers will be able to go a lot further.”

For his tenacity both inside and outside of the ring, for his dedication to the sport and in particular the youth, Shawn Blair is hereby namedthe Daily Herald’s Sports Person of the Year for 2016.

Christmas will not be complete without some good holiday beverages to quench your thirst and go with all the other goodies you have prepared.

Fifth generation St. Maartener Tara Arianna Hurlston fills this void with her locally made holiday beverage “My Coco Nog.” Hurlston, who has been making her Coco Nog concoction for years, also takes time to decorate the drink bottles to give them a great Caribbean holiday look.

Hurlston first learnt to make the drink around 2001, from one of her very good friends. “However, my friend never made it with coconut milk as I do now. I took what I learned from her and added a new twist to it, including an infusion tea made from spices that gives it the deep warm taste of Christmas.”

Hurlston is a 34-year-old mother of three sons – Jeremy, Jaeden and Joshua-Leigh. She works at Harbour Queen Seafood Grill and Bar, which is owned by her father, which she runs with her siblings and her hubby Jackson Dambreville.

“I consider myself to be a very dependable person, always willing to help others, and an ambitious person with a creative passion,” said Hurlston, a former St. Maarten Academy student. She is a Marketing and Digital Designer by profession (graphic design) and holds an associate degree in specialised Technology, Major Digital Design from the Art Institute of York, Pennsylvania, USA.

Hurlston is the granddaughter of the late great Captain Arsene Hubert Hodge, after whom Captain Hodge Wharf in Philipsburg is named. She was born in Marrero Louisiana only because her parents happened to live there at the time of her birth, but she is proud to be a fifth generation St. Maartener: “St. Maarten is now and will always be my home.”

Hurlston currently makes only the coconut flavour of “My Coco Nog” as it is a favourite of everyone who has tried it, but said she doesn’t mind experimenting. “I certainly would like to experiment and make new flavours, including the basic traditional flavour without coconut as some people may prefer that as well and see how it goes.”

Hurlston gets most of her ingredients right here in St. Maarten. She also gets her fresh nutmeg and cinnamon from her aunt, who gets them from Dominica. “My Coco Nog takes a few hours to prepare as it is slow cooked and should then be stored cold for at least a week before consuming – as I like to say it needs to soak; this is not really the correct term, but everyone gets what I mean. I hand-grate my cinnamon and nutmeg and the infusion tea from my mixed spices has to boil for a rich dark colour before it is added to the nog.”

She says My Coco Nog can last in the refrigerator for more than a year. As for the bottles, she said she has always had a passion for art and decorating from a child: “The idea for my Caribbean Christmas bottles came to me because we go through so many bottles here at our restaurant and thankfully St. Maarten now has a recycling programme in place which we utilise, but why not decorate the bottles for Christmas and sell My Coco Nog in them.”

“Many people know me as a Christmas decorator as I have for years, alongside my aunt Irene Hodge, decorated places such as the old Government Administration Building, the Roman Catholic Church, Simpson Bay Resorts and for many people personally in their homes. So when the idea came to decorate the bottles for My Coco Nog, it was more like a past time than a job. It's a pleasure to see how many people enjoy them as I enjoyed making them. I could do anywhere from between one to six bottles per day if time permits.”

Hurlston said her only challenge in making her special drink is her busy schedule. “I have a one-year-old son Joshua-Leigh Jackson and he keeps me busy enough. Then we are running our family restaurant full-time, so finding time to do my personal hobbies is not always easy.” And the rewards? “I have always been happy seeing people enjoy my food or my decorations, so the fact that so many people love My Coco Nog and talk about what they will do with their bottles after or even when they say, ‘I will be calling you for a refill’; that in itself is the best reward.”

She encourages the public to try her drink: “If you haven’t tried it, you are missing out and those are not my words – they are the words of so many people who have tried it before. I make it because it speaks of tradition and family and what we should all be doing for Christmas is coming together and creating memories.”

Hurlston got a chance to showcase and sell some of her drinks at the recently held St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce and Industry (COCI) Christmas Street Fair. At that event, she sold Coco Nog by the cup for US $6, so that everyone could get a taste.

In the past, apart for the Christmas holiday season, she sometimes made and sold her Coco Nog at different times of the year when requested by a family member after theirs had ran out, but after the great feedback she received at the Christmas Fair, she gets the feeling that she’ll be making it more often.

Prices for My Coco Nog range from $15 to $60 a bottle depending on the size, which comes in 750ml to 1,750ml bottles.

Interesting to note is that Hurlston also sold personalised Christmas ornaments and her father Clyde Hurlston's famous pumpkin cake using a secret recipe he learned from her aunt, who raised him in Guanaja, The Bay Island of Honduras. It is a popular dessert known by the locals, but a treat she grew up on and always looked forward to around Christmastime.

When asked what her pet peeve is, she said, “It's not that I don't have patience, but I have a deep dislike for people not respecting other people’s time. I try my best not to have anyone wait on me so I don't like others doing it to me unnecessarily.”

She can easily name a few role models, but the one that stands out the most is her aunt Irene Hodge, who is like a mother, sister and friend to her and to anyone she meets. She said Hodge is straight forward, kind, hardworking, selfless, down to earth and the best human being a person could ever want to have in their life. “I am truly blessed to have the privilege of knowing her and could only hope to be half as beautiful a person as she is.”

Persons interested in ordering their own bottles of locally made Coco Nog can contact Hurlston at or 1 (721) 523-6604.

“What is that?” Dad asked. “Since when does Santa Claus wear green?” He was looking at a little plush toy hanging on the wall next to the twinkling lights and ornaments. Mom had been decorating the whole house, and most of the decorations were heirlooms used year after year and then lovingly put away for future Christmases. But this was something new. “It’s not Santa, silly, it’s an elf; one of Santa’s helpers,” said Naija.

“Well it looks weird, I feel like he’s looking at me,” Dad said. “Maybe we can hang it on the back of the tree?”

“Paranoid much?” Naija laughed; but she took the elf off the wall and found a place on the back side of the tree, where her father wouldn’t be bothered by its googley eyes. As she hung it on the branch, she noticed it felt heavier than she’d expected, as if it might bend the branch too much. But when she placed it, it didn’t bend the branch at all. And as she turned her attention to the presents underneath the tree, she heard a rustling sound and looked up. “That’s funny,” she said to herself. The elf had turned around so it still looked out onto the room through the branches. “Maybe Daddy has a reason to be paranoid.”

That night after dinner, they turned on the tree’s lights and Naija noticed that the elf was peeking out from a perfect circle of red and green twinkling flashes. She saw that her dad had noticed it too. “Um, Mom, where did that green Christmas elf come from? I don’t remember seeing it before.” Mom said she didn’t know and hadn’t seen it before either. Naija and Dad looked at each other with their mouths hanging open. “Don’t fool with me, Ellie,” said Dad. “That elf is spooky; where did it come from?” Naija interrupted, “Really, Mom, so it just showed up here? That is so cool!”

“Well, I am getting rid of it,” Dad said as he reached into the tree and grabbed the elf, hooking a glass ball in the process and sending it crashing to the floor. Mom sighed heavily, and reached for the broom to sweep up the shards. “Really, Arthur, what is wrong with you? It’s just a little green elf? He’s cute. Maybe we got him as a gift last year and forgot about it, we should keep him right where he was.”

“You don’t want him back on the wall? Isn’t that where you put him this morning?” Mom turned a curious face towards him, “No, I didn’t put him on the wall.” Naija said, “Well I didn’t put him there, and for sure Dad didn’t put him there, but that is where we found him and then we moved him to the tree.” She could feel the goose bumps crawling across the skin of her arms.

“It’s a Christmas mystery, I guess,” said Mom, as she took the sweepings to the trash can. “But I say he stays.” Naija smiled a sly smile at her father and took the little toy from his hand. She reached around the tree and put him back in same spot he had been in before.

That night, after Naija had gone to bed, Mom and Dad turned off all the lights and Mom said, “Look at that! The elf is still lit up, he’s catching the light from the street light outside!” “Humph,” grumbled Dad as he went off to bed.

The next morning was Christmas Eve and Naija was the first one up hoping to look at all the presents before Mom and Dad got up. She gathered up all hers and turned them over carefully, trying to guess what each had inside. She took the big one from Tante Lizzie and marvelled at how it jingled when she shook it. “What could that be?” she wondered. As she heard Mom and Dad getting out of bed, she hurriedly put all the presents back where they had been. Then she noticed the elf. It wasn’t in the tree anymore; it was back on the wall. The goose bumps quickly returned to her arms, and she went to sit on the sofa and stare at the elf, back to the tree, and back to the elf.

Its bobbling eyes did, in fact, seem to be focused right on her. She got up and walked over to the dinner table, and still its eyes were on her. “This is weird,” she said aloud. “What’s weird?” said Dad, walking in rubbing his eyes. Naija just pointed to the elf on the wall. Dad stopped in his tracks, “Did you…?” Naija shook her head, her own eyes starting to bulge in a googley fashion. “I need coffee,” said Dad, stumbling to the kitchen. “Mom!” Naija called out, “Please tell me you moved the elf back to the wall.”

“What?” Mom called back as she walked down the stairs. “Is the coffee ready, Art?” Mom’s PJs had reindeers all over them, a gift from Tante Lizzie last year. “Look!” said Naija. “What is going on with that elf?” With an effort, Naija got her mother to look at the wall and there hung the green Christmas elf. It looked innocent, but now when Naija and her family looked at it, there was a creepy feeling in the gut, as if a sinister force was emanating from those eyes.

Mom and Dad sat on the sofa with their cups of coffee steaming and stared at the elf on the wall. Naija paced around the house, “We should put it back on the tree and set up the webcam and then leave. We should give it to someone we don’t like, or burn it!” “Don’t be silly, Naija, there is no such thing as a haunted toy! You’ve been watching too much TV.” Naija stood firm, hands on hips and glared at her parents. “What are you talking about, how do you explain it?” “Well, I don’t know exactly, but I am pretty sure there is an explanation, and it doesn’t involve anything supernatural. Okay? So let’s just put it back in the tree.” “No!” Dad waved his hands, “Leave it on the wall, I don’t want to upset the thing!”

And so they left it, and tried to ignore it, the little green Christmas elf, hanging on the wall. Was it observing them all day as they made cookies, watched TV and played board games? As the afternoon stretched into Christmas Eve night, the time came for the traditional Bible reading of the Christmas story in Matthew, chapters 1 and 2, and the singing of a few favourite Christmas carols: Silent Night, God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen, and Away in a Manger. Then they held hands and said a prayer for those who could not be with them this Christmas, especially Tante Lizzie traveling to Holland to visit her son, Naija’s cousin Sandro, who was studying engineering and couldn’t afford to come back to the island for the holidays. Through the whole evening, Mom and Dad tried not to look at or think about the elf on the wall, but Naija kept checking, wondering if maybe, somehow, it was trying to join in with the family’s activities.

At bedtime, they all gave hugs and kisses, put out a glass of milk and a plate of cookies for Santa, with a note asking him if he knew where the elf had come from, and headed off to bed. The tree lights twinkled and as Naija looked back over her shoulder, it seemed as if the Christmas Elf gave her a little wink.

On Christmas morning, an early ray of sunlight gleamed in the window and Naija woke with a smile. She jumped from her bed and hurried to the tree to find a new bike propped up against the wall, and a train set chugging away on an oval track! “Mom! Dad! Wake up, its Christmas morning!” she called and then stopped as her eyes swept over to the Christmas Elf on the wall. It hadn’t moved, but she still felt like it was doing something sneaky, watching her with a sly grin, almost. Mom and Dad came in with smiles and watched Naija playing with the train set. Suddenly, the phone rang and Naija picked up with a cheery, “Merry Christmas!” It was Tante Lizzie, calling to send her love for the blessed morning. “Wish you were here, Tante Lizzie,” said Naija. “Really?” said her aunt; “because actually, I am right outside!” “What?!” yelled the girl and she ran to the front door. There stood Aunt Liz, with a bottle of champagne and a jug of fresh orange juice. “Surprise!” she shouted.

Mom and Tante Lizzie embraced, “What are you doing here?” asked Mom, “Why aren’t you in Holland?” “Well, Sandro said he wanted me to save my money, and so we decided to plan a big trip when I can stay longer, maybe in June.” “But he is all alone for Christmas – that seems sad,” said Mom. “Well,” laughed Tante Lizzie, “he’s not completely alone; he’s been here taking part in your Christmas traditions for the last two days, and he’s still here right now!” “Huh?” said Naija, “What do you mean he’s here?”

Dad started to laugh, and he stood up and looked into the elf’s googley eyes, “Hi Sandro!” he said and waved. Aunt Liz got up and took the Christmas Elf from the wall, “You guys had me worried when you put the webcam elf in the tree; I had to sneak in and move him back to the wall so Sandro could see what was going on. Let’s get him on Skype.”

Sandro came online and they connected the computer to the flat screen TV. He was laughing and pointing at the family. “Man, I miss you all so much, but watching you get ready for Christmas was the nicest present I could hope for. I hope that the Christmas Elf really didn’t have you spooked too much. You were freaked out, I guess, right, Uncle Art?” “Who, me, scared?” said Dad, taking a mimosa cocktail from Liz. “No way, I knew it was you all along,” he said. “Yeah, right,” said Mom and Naija at the same time. “Well, let’s open the rest of the presents,” said Tante Lizzie. “Yeah,” said Naija.

Whenever I think back at the Christmases of my youth, I always associate them with the sound of crunching snow under our feet when returning from night mass. So my memory isn’t to be fully, truly trusted, as winters in The Netherlands don’t always come with snow, but it must have somehow made a strong impression.

St. Martin/St. Maarten Day has a deep cultural and historical meaning for St. Maarten’s Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports Affairs Silveria Jacobs. We spoke to her about the significance of this day and what it means to her as a St. Maartener and minister of Culture. 

The Mighty Dow, aka Isidore York, has given the island many gifts. His obvious talent and genius have won him many awards, including Premio Lo Nuestro. One of his best loved creations is the St. Maarten Rhumba. The infectiously happy party song is irresistible and feels like it has always been there, as if it sprung up from the soil fully formed.

There is a local clothing line dedicated strictly to St. Maarten. The ilovesxm clothing line was launched in January 2013, after a much-celebrated online campaign for the locally designed T-shirt and Polo Line branding. Boasting top quality, durable, breathable material, with a simple design, it was destined to be an instant hit with visiting tourists and locals here and abroad, who share the same great deep love for the island.

Being a lover of nature, an expert on birds and a gentleman of leisurely interests, there are few things Binkie van Es would rather do that putter around in his garden, trimming and repotting his beloved ferns, flowers and trees. A daily ritual, the garden offers more than a hobby for this Kooyman administrator – it’s a passion that gives him a lot of pleasure. His feathered friends seem to like it too.

There is something incredibly satisfying about snipping your own home-grown herbs to add to your meals. They can be grown in the garden, in containers on the porch or balcony or even on a kitchen windowsill. Start off by picking two or three of your favourite herbs. You can grow them from seed, but if you are a novice, it’s easier to buy the ready-grown seedlings.

Prepare the flower bed in a spot that gets both sunshine and shade during the day and then add compost to enrich the soil. If you are using containers, make sure they have good drainage holes at the bottom. You could add rocks at the bottom of the pot to assist in drainage. Put good quality potting soil on top.

The advantage to using containers is that you could easily move them around to find the spot the plants are happiest in. Carefully follow the directions on your seed packet or seedling – spacing out the herbs as directed. Make sure you keep the herbs watered, but take care that they don’t become water-logged.

“We've been on this huge honeymoon trip for about two weeks now.  We are traveling all throughout Southeast Asia, New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, Tahiti, and Hawaii.  My mom insisted that I keep her updated as we go and I turned that into a blog.”   

About the couple

Onicia was born and raised in St. Maarten. She is the second of three girls. Her parents Cheryl and Gabriel live in St. Maarten.

Remigio was born in Wisconsin and raised in Ecuador. He has an older sister and a younger brother. His parents Jane and Remigio live in Tampa, Florida.

The couple currently lives in Chicago where Remigio works as a non-profit administrator and Onicia as a writer and creative project manager.

Despite being an interracial, intercultural, and interfaith pairing, OKCupid algorithms found Onicia and Remigio to be a strong match. Immediate family travelled to Chicago in September 2015, where Onicia and Remigio were married in a joint-faith “micro-wedding” ceremony.