RMC Logo
Home >> Ask Brett & Nina >> How did Christmas Island get its name?
Q: How did Christmas Island get its name?
A:  Can you guess which of the following answers is correct?

  • A. It is where Santa Claus lives.
  • B. It is covered with small evergreen trees that resemble Christmas trees.
  • C. The inhabitants give each other gifts every day of the year.
  • D. It was named on December 25th.

If you guessed D, then you’re right!

Christmas Island lies in the Indian Ocean about 225 miles south of the island of Java, which is part of Indonesia, and about 870 miles northwest of Australia. It measures 52 square miles in area, and it is home to about 1,400 people. The island is actually the summit of a mountain that rises from the ocean floor.

The first recorded sighting of the island was by Richard Rowe, master of the ship Thomas, in 1615. After that sighting, the island began showing up on the charts of British and Dutch navigators.

On Christmas Day of 1643, Captain William Mynors of the British East India Company arrived on the ship Royal Mary and gave the island its name. However, he was not able to actually land on the island because of the ruggedness of the coastline, much of which is lined with rocky ledges and steep cliffs. The first recorded landing did not take place until 1688.

Two centuries later, in 1887, rich deposits of phosphate were discovered on Christmas Island. (Phosphate is a mineral used in agriculture and industry.) The following year, the United Kingdom took control of the island and a settlement was established at Flying Fish Cove. Phosphate mining began in the 1890s.

Christmas Island remained a colony of the United Kingdom for seven decades. Then, in 1958, the United Kingdom gave control of the island to Australia. Today, the people who live on Christmas Island are considered citizens of Australia.

To protect natural environments and wildlife on the island, Christmas Island National Park was established in 1980. The park now covers nearly two-thirds of the island.

Each year in October and November, Christmas Island is the scene of one of the world’s most spectacular animal migrations. Millions of red crabs descend from the island’s interior rainforest to the coast to breed and release eggs into the sea. Visitors from all over the world flock to the island to witness the spectacle.

(Question submitted by a 5th-grade student at P.S. 20 in New York City.)

     Brett & Nina
     Geography Sleuths

     View all questions
About Us  |   Contact Us  |   Privacy Policy  |   Help  
© 2015 Rand McNally. All rights reserved. Terms of Use