Celebrating Christmas in the Caribbean:The Greater Antilles & Lucayan Region

Part 1 of 3: The Greater Antilles & Lucayan Region

Christianity is the dominant religion that pervades the Caribbean. It therefore follows that Christian festivals and celebrations are the largest religious events on the Caribbean calendar. It goes without saying that Christmas is then the largest and most anticipated religious event in the Caribbean. Undoubtedly, Christmas is the most festive time of the year in the region.

This is the first of a two part series that explores Christmas in the Caribbean. Today, we will explore Christmas in the Lucayan Archipelago (Bahamas and Turks and Caicos) as well as the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Hispaniola, Cayman Islands and Puerto Rico).


Christmas in the Lucayan Archipelago

Christmas in the Lucayan Archipelago which includes The Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos, is a great time for carnival with various secular activities and festivals occurring. The major activity everybody in The Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos gets involved in at Christmas time is Junkanoo! Junkanoo! Junkanoo! Christmas in the Bahamas would not be complete without Junkanoo parades. Junkanoo is a carnival featuring parading bands in colourful costumes, singing, dancing, and decorations everywhere.

Image Credit: http://christmasnite.blogspot.com

The participants wear colourful dresses and dance to the rhythmic accompaniment of cowbells, drums and whistles. Other Bahamian Christmas activities include gift giving, feasting, Christmas cards, Christmas music, Christmas masquerade and other events. 

Christmas in the Greater Antilles        

Jamaica: In Jamaica, the first sign of Christmas is Jamaica is the playing of Christmas carols and reggae on the radio. People decorate their homes with lights as well as their surrounding environment. Christmas in Jamaica is a time for togetherness as families keep reunions and have great feasts. Traditional Christmas cuisine consists of rice and peas and chicken. Many people may also have curry goat, turkey, ham, jerk chicken and ackee and salt fish. Black Fruit cake is a must and ginger beer and sorrel are common drink delights.

On Christmas Eve there is a large glittering market activity (the customary provision market is often the location) that is held in each town in Jamaica. This is known as Grand Market which is a unique tradition in Jamaica. Grand Markets are similar to community fairs where vendors sell toys, food, crafts, clothing, and Christmas decorations.

It is not uncommon to find street dances and Jonkanoo parades – a traditional Christmas celebration where revellers parade through the streets dressed in colourful masquerade costumes.

Image Credit: Jamaica Gleaner

Cuba: In Cuba, as a way to show love and affection, Cubans exchange gifts among family and friends. On December 24th, they will buy Pork (in the past a roasted pig for Christmas was a must in Cuba), beer, apple cider, beans and fruits for the Christmas meal. Many Catholics will attend midnight mass.

Image Credit: http://www.hispanic-culture-online.com

Cayman Islands: In The Cayman, there is White (Sand) Christmas. Do you dream of a Caribbean holiday getaway? In The Cayman, local tradition calls for "backing sand" from local beaches on moonlit nights and spreading it around yards to stand in for a snowy welcome for Santa. Cayman residents compete to have the whitest and most beautiful sand yard on Christmas morning.

Haiti: In Haiti, from the start of December, the air is filled with Christmas songs in French and Créole.  Traditionally, a few days before Christmas, Haitians would cut pine branches to serve as Christmas trees or they would go to the market and get freshly cut trees brought from the mountains. Whitewashing and refurnishing of the house and buying new clothes for all the members of the family also generally precede the Christmas Day.

Children will play with "Pluie d'étoile" (a metal stick, once lit, it turns into a fire work of bright stars). On Christmas Eve many people recreate the nativity scene by having a "crêche" and a "L'arbre de Noël" or Christmas tree.  They would then decorate them with bright ornaments.

Mass is an important part of the Haitian tradition, where family and friends will get together on the 24th to celebrate. For most Haitians Midnight Mass is a must. Some congregations will have an Open air mass, Le réveillon de Noël". The word "reveillon" is French for a Christmas or New Year's Eve supper and comes from the verb meaning 'to wake up." The menu on Christmas day can be quite elaborate for those who can afford it:  turkey, ham, conch, shrimp créole, pâté, riz djon-djon (rice with mushroom), the classic rice and beans and fried plantain.

Dominican Republic: In the Dominican Republic, Christmas is very different than in Haiti, even though both countries share borders. Christmas is mostly felt in the Capital city, Santo Domingo where celebrations begin in early November.  The streets are decorated with lights, and the people will clean up and paint their houses, and buy new clothes for the children.  

A popular tradition in the Dominican Republic is to exchange food with your neighbours on Christmas Eve"La noche Buena".  Among the foods that are shared are pastels, telera (it is bread baked at Christmas time only), Russian salad, niño envuelto (stuff cabbage), roast pork, poultry (goose, pigeons, guinea-fowl).  Dessert will often be bread pudding, followed by punch, which is similar to eggnog.  Carolling is also a popular pastime, often, members of the group go from home to home singing.   Dominicans will also attend Midnight Mass as well.

Puerto-Rico: In Puerto-Rico, there are a number of Christmas traditions that follow US custom, including the Christmas tree and Santa Claus. Still, there are numerous aspects of the festivities that have been observed by Puerto Ricans for generations.  The festivities start at the beginning of December, however Christmas is celebrated on December 24th. In Puerto Rico, Christmas brings with it, léchon asado ( roast pork),  pasteles, arroz con dulce (rice pudding), tembleque (coconut pudding),  coquito (a drink like eggnog with coconut milk, coconut cream, condensed milk and rum).

  Image Credit: http://www.npr.org                                               

One common scene in a Puerto Rican Christmas is the singing of carols. Puerto Rico has its version of carols known as "Aguilnado". Friends go around in groups called "Parenderos" and traverse the town with their instruments, playing in the streets and at events.

By Norvan Martin

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Christmas in the Leeward Island

Christmas in the Windward Islands

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