For many Brits, Christmas is a sacred ritual, which produces picture postcard memories of pyjama clad families, bright and early on a crisp, cold morning, opening presents lovingly together in the front room.
Then later sitting round the dinner table packed full of delicious festive foods, and surrounded by more family members than it can comfortably fit.
Not forgetting later, following with good old fashioned Christmas TV re-runs (only fools and horses in our house) whilst their stomachs fight a losing battle to digest all which has come before.
Except this year was 2020 and for many around Britain Christmas was going to be quite different - "Christmas was cancelled".
For us though, Christmas was always going to be different from those back home.
This was our second year of being in South East Asia, and we expected to be spending Christmas in Cambodia, or Bali, or maybe Nepal but due to travel restrictions from Covid19 we found ourselves in Malaysia for the second year.
Now we love Malaysia, and spending Christmas in the safety and familiarity of the country we have come to call home was fine by us; spending it in the same four walls of the apartment we had spent each lockdown however was not something we looked forward to.
So with domestic travel being encouraged we decided to return to the tropical island of Pulau Sibu.
Sibu island is a tiny 6km2 island off the South West coast of Malaysia with a population of just 100 people.
We had previously spent a few days in the summer at one of 3 resorts on the island called Sea Gypsy Village.
Run by a Scottish Family who opened a diving base on the island in 1993, this multi award winning resort is made up of a number of single story guest and staff huts, branching out from a central rustic style bar and restaurant and two story children activity centre.
The main focal point of the resort is of course the pristine white sandy beach, with the buildings all camouflaged, or rather grown into the foliage of the jungle, just a few steps from sand itself.
What we had loved previously, and why we were returning; was the engulfing feeling of peace and tranquillity here.
In many ways the resort is very basic, which I will come to explain later, however this simplicity allows you to find a slower rhythm that matches your surroundings and truly relax into the place.
With Christmas being such a sacred time for us Brits I don't think that we would have entrusted this holiday to just any hotel, but our experience of the staff at Sea Gypsy filled us with confidence that they would make it a magical time for us and the kids.
The activities they were promising in their Christmas deal also inspired our decision - with daily Christmas activities for the kids, a traditional British Christmas dinner and a visit from Santa Claus on top of the usual offerings we jumped at the chance to spend our first ever Christmas on a tropical island.
At the time we were living in Johor Bahru, on the very Southern tip of Malaysia on the land border to Singapore. So our journey was a couple of hours car ride to Mersing, and a further 20 min boat ride to the island.
Travel can all be organised through Sea Gypsy, for a comfortable 8 seater mini bus, with DVD player for the kids, to pick you up from your door and drop you directly at the jetty, whether you are travelling from JB, KL or anywhere else - even Singapore (when the borders open)
We have been met both times by Richard the eldest son of the Sea Gypsy family at the dock and immediately welcomed warmly and very enthusiastically.
The abundant members of the team under Richards instruction place all your luggage in dry bags and load it into the dual motor speed boats, and get all guests in life jackets ready for the journey.
There is also no avoiding you yourself getting at least a little wet and possibly a lot wet depending on the side of the boat you pick.
On our second visit to the island possibly due to the time of year we saw more rough water days than flat, with plenty of surf to play with - this also meant that the journey out was bumpy - very bumpy!
If you love the ocean, like me then this is the perfect exhilarating way to start the holiday - if you have any fears about open water perhaps have a few drinks first.
On this occasion it was in fact too rough to pilot the boat straight to the Sea Gypsy beach, this is not really a reflection of the weather that day as it was a cloudless still morning but the Sea Gypsy beach simply has no jetty so any breaking waves at all prevents the boats from landing.
So we were dropped off at the opposite side of the island and enjoyed a short 15 minute trek through the jungle to the resort.
This is easily done in whatever you are wearing but be prepared to get at least a little muddy - Emma resorted to bear foot, which was fine, as her flipflops kept getting stuck in the mud.
Being untamed jungle be prepared with a good mosquito repellent pretty much everywhere on the island but especially when trekking.
On a rough day, with many guests arriving the offloading of the boats is in fact quite a sight to behold from the beach bar.
With what seems every member of staff roped in to accomplish the task; our luggage was brought ashore through the organised chaos of a shock and awe tactic - whereby the pilot beaches the boat at speed as the staff simultaneously rush it and collect everything onboard then sprint up the beach to drop it off.
It's like some kind of army training drill they are obviously well rehearsed in, which is repeated often with every delivery brought to the island.
When you first arrive you are directed to the bar for a welcome (non-alcoholic) cocktail, here we were greeted again by the resort hospitality manager and told which hut would be ours.
There is no official key hand over as there are no keys, none of the huts have locks, just a simple latch hook instead.
Once your luggage is on the island you simply tell a member of the team which is yours and they deliver it to your veranda.
The huts themselves are hand build by the Sea Gypsy family, stood on stilts with an open plan bedroom layout and separate shower room out the back.
They are beautiful in their own Swiss family Robinson kind of way, with little lighting, shutters and doors which don't quite shut properly and the odd loose floor board but obviously built with love.
There are no real luxuries here, the water pumped from the onsite fresh water well is cold but drinkable the Aircon as it says on their website is provided by the cool island breeze.
I for one find it hard to sleep when hot and after living in Asia for some time now have come accustomed to Aircon at night.
On our first visit in the summer some nights were uncomfortable but actually on one night at least in December we woke up a little cold - either way a portable fan definitely helps.
The guests huts all surround a central open wooded area shaded by a dense tree canopy, this then blends seamlessly with the sandy beach meaning that all the huts have a sea view.
Although the backdrop to the resort is the dense Malaysian jungle we know well, the trees growing in the centre resemble more English woodland and often the sound of wood pigeons can be heard alongside the whooping of monkeys.
The resort can be split into 4 main areas to Sea Gypsy:
The guest huts also including a volley ball, badminton and boules area and children's play area (which with the abundance of natural exploratory play gets very little use)
The beach bar and restaurant are housed in one large building neighbouring the dive and water sport centre, where all sorts of water sports equipment can be hired, behind which you will find the resort well and outdoor gym.
The resort office and Mobile tower sit at the back of the resort alongside the staff huts just before you hit jungle. This is in fact the only place on the island you have any hope of finding a signal something that is surprisingly refreshing for a family of digital nomads.
In the middle of everything and housed in a very impressive 2 story (again hand built) wooden building is the kids club enveloped by plenty of grassy space to run around freely.
One of our favourite spots on the island is the beach bar. With the sound of the crashing waves you can retreat from the hot sun with a cold drink and a game of any one of the board games they have at hand.
We highly recommend playing Escape Sibu Island - a handmade game based on the traditional format but with the game play pieces representing each member of the Sea Gypsy team and the island landscape representing a real-life focal point of Sibu. Giving you an immediate overview of the resort team and island areas.
On this occasion we had some friends visit the resort at the same time as us too, and so relaxed games with drinks became even greater fun.
The kids also love the slower island pace and sitting with a board game, but really one of the main reasons we returned to Sea Gypsy was because of how much our kids love the kids club.
Seriously they cannot decide whether Sea Gypsy or Disney is a better holiday, and as the saying goes happy kids equals happy parents.
The resort has really perfected a very simple solution to ensure this; kids club start at 6pm every night and lasts (now this is the important part) till 10 pm - that's a whole 4 hours, kid free!
The kids themselves eat dinner all together with a member of staff, usually engrossed in a story at the same time from Richard.
After which they head off, chanting and singing like a conga line of wild animals to the kids club area, where they play an hour of running games altogether before heading upstairs to the cinema room to watch a DVD until pick up time.
Meanwhile the parents enjoy a quiet, even romantic, evening dinner and drinks at the adult only bar, at which the barman has a very generous pour.
Daytime's are taken care of by the beach and water sports available. I love to paddle board and the coastline around Sibu is absolutely beautiful to explore.
There are daily optional activities for an extra fee, such as diving and trekking experiences as well as additional kids activities too.
As part of the package a number of Christmas themed activities during the day were included such as Christmas cookie making, Santa letter writing, and tree decoration crafting.
These really helped to create an atmosphere which, to be honest we worried that on an island like Sibu might be missing.
Nearing the big day we were also treated to regular sightings of the big guy in red.
Santa would be spotted exiting the jungle at breakfast or such like and we were asked to try to stop the kids from chasing him, so as not to spoil the illusion - kids being kids however set chase almost immediately - luckily Santa was surprisingly quick!
Even the kids from the very first sighting, have their suspicions that this is in fact Richard but their subsequent interrogation of him just adds to the fun.
By all accounts Richard seems to be in charge of the general running of the resort day to day, but is very much the "hands on" leader type - who in fact never seems to stop working and when he is not working he can been seen chasing off the wild boar and cows that roam onto the resort from the jungle.
All the staff in fact are great, hospitable and totally welcoming.
We got an opportunity this trip to take a tour of the island Kampung (village) with the resort's dive instructor, Boy.
The Kampung tour takes you on a slow walk around the coast of the island, passing by two of the islands other resorts, one of which now abandoned for the jungle to reclaim.
Once in the village we passed by the local school, got introduced to the local fruit bats, chased a monster monitor lizard and were shown the local police station (there are no police employed on the island).
It was a really enjoyable walk and showed just how small the island was, as we had travelled almost end to end with stops in under an hour.
The highlight though was the jumping into the sea from the islands main jetty. At some point the Malaysian government had the idea that cruise ships may want to stop here, so they built a jetty big enough to handle such a vessel.
Of course no such ships come to Sibu so now it's used for jumping off of.
With a decent 15 foot (ish) jump I was not expecting my little 5 year old to follow me, but of course she did and a proud Daddy I was!
We did have a slight emergency after our friend cut her foot getting back onto the jetty, but it only added to the exhilaration of the speed boat ride back to resort, and after being bandaged up was no worse for wear.
By the time Christmas came around the relaxed atmosphere, days full of activities and evenings spent drinking and eating delicious food had really settled us into a festive mood.
On the day itself we woke early and opened a few presents, we had kept some main ones back at home, then headed for breakfast to the sound of classic Christmas songs.
It was strange to share Christmas breakfast with so many but great to greet all the guests and staff that we had been hanging out with the last few days and wish them Merry Christmas.
Towards the end of breakfast the sound of a speed boat motor approaching the beach could be heard and we were encouraged to head down.
What greeted us was Santa Claus perched on the very bow of the boat waving frantically. After a few figures of eight they headed in and beached the boat and Santa marched up wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.
The speed and wind of the boat hadn't done Santa any favours in hiding his true identity but in some ways this was even more fitting that the children knew it was Richard underneath as they all seem to adore his entertaining presence.
Subsequently Richard (sorry Santa) began calling each child and adult up individually by name to receive a gift from him - locally made stuffed island animals for the children and handmade Saris for the adults all beautifully wrapped and tagged.
After some photos we waved Santa goodbye and headed off for our Christmas day on the island.
For us that consisted of some paddle board and Kayak touring, a bit of surfing and general sandcastle building.
The children had a Christmas activity later in the day and joined the kids club group for a sleigh ride tour of the resort, in which Richard was now Rudolf pulling the sleigh and Boy had somehow pulled the long straw and was now Santa, either way the kids loved it.
That afternoon we spent a little time playing board games in the bar but before we knew it our Christmas day on a tropical island was nearly over.
Of course the main part of Christmas is the dinner. Before arriving on the island we were warned that due to more guests the traditional dinner was being replaced by a BBQ and I cannot help but admit that we were a little disappointed, however it seemed only fitting for the circumstances.
Actually the BBQ was amazing, and made it feel no less like Christmas for us. The kids joined us for this meal and for dessert, as it got dark a bonfire was lit on the beach where the children were handed marshmallows and crackers and helped to make their own s'mores.
Once the evening really set in the staff took the kids off for a Christmas movie whilst the adults enjoyed a few festive drinks at the bar.
After collecting the kids fast asleep from kids club and tucking them up in bed, we said goodnight to our first Christmas on a tropical island.
We headed home next day, and just as last time were sad to leave. Regardless of the time of year the resort, the family and their team really do a great job of making the Sea Gypsy Village somewhere incredibly special.
We will never forget our 2020 Christmas spent on Sibu Island.