How is Christmas celebrated Caribbean-style?
Since today is Christmas Eve, it may be too late to book a flight to
witness a jolly Santa, garbed in a stocking hat and swim trunks and
toting a sack full of toys, glide in on a surfboard, step onto a white
sand beach and dole out gifts to good boys and girls. But to visit the
region during the Festive Season, as it is dubbed in the Caribbean, is
to be a witness to and a participant in holiday traditions and customs
that reflect the history of the islands of the region.
As visions of sugar plums dance in our heads here at home, down in the islands the festival fever extends well into January.
In St. Croix, for example, the month-long, islandwide Crucian
Christmas Festival in both Christiansted and Frederiksted features
calypso shows, soca competitions, steel pan orchestras, quadrille
dancers, horse races, pageants, face painting for the kiddos, Latin
music venues, food fairs with johnny cakes, roti and plenty of coquito.
festivities morph right into the Crucian Carnival celebrations, with
the finale on Jan. 4 with Jump Up events: huge, town-wide parties with
live music and performances by costumed mocko jumbie dancers who perch
on tall stilts high in the air above the crowds.
Puerto Rico's holiday traditions continue through to the Fiestas de
la Calle San Sebastian Jan. 15 through 19 that marks the unofficial
closing of the long holiday season.
During the multiday celebrations, Old San Juan is taken over by live
music, circus performances and impromptu dancing on every street corner.
By day the plazas and streets are filled with local artists and
artisans showcasing their wares. Once the sun goes down, concerts and
parties take place across the walled city into the wee hours.
Puerto Ricans love parrandas, their version of caroling where friends
and family go from house to house, surprising people with live music
The lifesize gingerbread house at the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Puerto Rico Golf & Beach Resort.
Visitors who stop in (or stay at) the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Puerto
Rico Golf and Beach Resort will get an opportunity for an
Instagram-worthy photo of the resort's life-sized edible gingerbread
house, created by the resort's pastry team and on display through early
Ingredients included 75 pounds of butter, 132 pounds of chocolate, three pounds of cinnamon and 600 eggs.
to Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and many other islands during the
holiday period will be treated to black cake, a rich fruitcake whose
ingredients include a mix of spices and fruits soaked in wine and lots
of rum for several months.
Jamaica also hosts the Grand Market, a holiday tradition that
features pop-up markets across the island in December with decorated
vendor stalls selling toys, gift items and food.
These festive markets stay open late with music throughout the night.
Haitians place a large nativity scene under the pine Christmas trees
in their homes and in the markets. Anisette, a mild alcoholic beverage
prepared by soaking anise leaves in rum and sweetened with sugar, is the
traditional beverage served on Christmas Day.
A traditional Jamaican holiday meal is a spread with baked ham,
chicken, oxtail or curried goat, accompanied by yampi (sweet yam), rice
and gungo peas.
Sorrel wine, a sweet Caribbean-style cocktail, is the official drink
of the festive season in Jamaica as well as in Trinidad, Montserrat and
The tart-and-tangy holiday punch is made with dried sorrel (hibiscus
seeds) spiced with cloves, fresh ginger, pimento and laced with white
Holiday drinks of choice include ponche de crema eggnog with added
rum in Trinidad and Tobago, and shrub beverage (local rum infused with
spices and clementine orange peels) in Guadeloupe.
The main dishes for Christmas dinner vary across most of the islands,
but it's common for a whole hog or goat to be slaughtered for the grand
meal that day, served alongside macaroni pie, baked ham and turkey,
Johnny cakes, plantains and potato pudding, topped off by black cake for
dessert. The most popular dessert in the French-speaking islands is
buche de Noel (Christmas log).
Antigua's Christmas celebrations include the moko jumbie dancers,
while Montserrat and St. Kitts feature a full calendar of musical and
beauty competitions, fetes and parades right through the New Year.
Christmas day in Barbados is marked by musical performances by the
Royal Barbados Police Force Band, tuk bands and gospel singers at Queens
Park in Bridgetown.
Throughout the holiday season on Aruba, gaita bands perform at public
venues all over the island. The music originated in Venezuela, and
gaita bands are composed of a female singer accompanied by musicians on
piano, tambu drum and guitars.
The Cayman Islands' National Trust hosts a Christmas Lights bus tour
so visitors can sample beef and cassava cake during a tour of local
homes and gardens decked out for the season.
Junkanoo Festival in the Bahamas runs from Boxing Day on Dec. 26 through Jan. 1.
From 1 a.m. through the early morning hours, downtown streets in
Nassau and on many of the Out Islands are abuzz with parades of
exuberant performers in colorful horned masks who drum and dance through
the streets to the sounds of goatskin drums and cowbells.
Guadeloupe wraps up its Christmas and New Year's celebrations with
the start of its lively Carnival season on Jan. 1 that runs through
March 6. Dance marathons, song contests and parades are centered in the
capital of Basse-Terre.
In Bermuda, visitors and locals gather at Elbow Beach for food, drink
and music on Christmas day followed by the arrival of the Gombeys on
Boxing Day, traditional troupes of costumed dancers who move to the
rhythms of goatskin drums, tin whistles and beer bottles.