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August 1999 Vol. 14, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Story of Christmas

from the August, 1999 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Christmas Island is 1300 miles due south of Hawaii. That’s only about a 3-hour flight, but Kiribati bends the dateline to keep all its islands on the same calendar, so travelers arrive a full day later. Part of the Pacific’s Line Island chain, Christmas is the world’s largest coral atoll, a full 45 miles long and between 7 and 25 miles wide, although lagoons make up nearly 2/3 of that area. What land there is roughly forms a “Ç” that partially encircles a central lagoon. That lagoon feeds into the ocean on the island’s leeward side, its entrance partly blocked by the Cook Island bird sanctuary, which lies close to many dive sites.

The island was named after the day in 1777 when Captain James Cook first happened upon it, but it remained uninhabited until the 1950s, when the British chose it for their nuclear weapons development project and induced a small Micronesian work force from the Gilbert Islands to relocate there. Once they’d tested their H-bomb nearby, the British pulled out, leaving behind a few Micronesians and a great deal of debris. Today the island’s 4400 residents are citizens of the Republic of Kiribati (pronounced kiri-BAHS).

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