Celebrating Christmas in the Caribbean:The Lesser Antilles (the Windward Islands)

Part 3 of 3: The Lesser Antilles (The Windward Islands)

Part 3 of Celebrating Christmas in the Caribbean focuses on Christmas in the Lesser Antilles (Windward Islands), an archipelago of islands spanning half the eastern side of the Caribbean Sea.

Barbados:  Like many of the Caribbean Islands Christmas in Barbados is influenced by the United Kingdom and North America – a time for feasting and gift giving. The main dish for Christmas is jug-jug (Indian cornmeal, pigeon peas, salt meat mix together), Black Cake, Sorrel and Bajan rum. 

                                  Image Credit: http://www.baltimoresun.com

Other favourites include green peas and rice, baked ham, roast turkey with its stuffing with gravy, roast pork with crackling and gravy, fish, pepperpot, yam pie, candied sweet potatoes, plantain and cookies. Typically desserts here would be Christmas cake, cassava pone, as well as plum pudding or Christmas pudding.

St. Croix, U.S.V.I. : Crucian Christmas Festival: Christmas in the U.S. Virgin Islands and St. Croix follows American tradition. Christmas begins the first Saturday in December and ends the first Saturday of the New Year; like traditional Caribbean carnivals, it features J'ouvert parties, the crowning of a Queen and King, calypso contests, parades, and a special festival village. In mid-December, folks gather along the boardwalk to enjoy the annual Boat Parade, an evening procession of watercraft of all shapes and sizes ablaze with Christmas lights and accompanied by music and fireworks.

Trinidad & Tobago: Trinidad & Tobago is one of the Caribbean's most diverse islands. Christmas beginning very early in early November and is celebrated through song. There is nothing quite like it in the rest of the Caribbean. One major element of Christmas in Trinidad is Parang music which originated with Venezuelan migrants who were primarily of Amerindian and African heritage, and became an important part of Christmas in Trinidad.

Parang groups, traditionally, four to six singers go from house to house within communities playing and singing music. Their Christmas offerings include lively folk carols heralding the birth of the Christ Child and relating the story of the nativity. Today, Parang Soca (introduced around 1978), a blend of soca music and parang is also popular.

                                    Image Credit: http://www.ttconnect.gov.tt

Christmas concerts and parties take place across the two-island nation — but especially the eastern Trinidad towns of Paramin and Arima — costumed bands perform traditional folk songs in Spanish Creole, accompanied by instruments such as mandolin, cuatro, and box bass.

Saint Lucia: Christmas in Saint Lucia has its own, unique flavour. One popular tradition is “bursting the bamboo.” People use kerosene and rags and sticks as fuses to make cannons out of hollowed-out bamboo.  From late November one can hear the sounds of bamboo bursting during the night.

There is also the Festival of Lights and Renewal (honouring the patron saint of light, St. Lucy), which begins December 13, and features a lantern-making competition and the decoration of towns and villages with lights.  

The Dutch Caribbean: The Dutch Caribbean includes islands such as Aruba, Curacao, Bonaire, St. Maarten, St. Eustatius, and Saba. Their celebrations feature unique traditions and activities, coming out of Holland, with visits from Sinterklaas and his mysterious minions, the Zwarte Piet (Black Petes).

Curacaoans don black face paint and curly afro-wigs as “Zwarte Piet” Photo by Karen Attiah

Children receive their holiday gifts not only on Christmas morning but also on Dec. 6, the birthday of St. Nicholas. In Curacao, for example, Sinterklass, the equivalent of Santa Claus only taller and thinner, arrives by boat in Willemstad in mid-November to give candy to children, aided by his Black Pete helpers with their black-painted faces and elaborate costumes.

 St Vincent and the Grenadines: An interesting aspect of the Christmas season in St Vincent is the pre-Christmas celebration called Nine Mornings, observed for the nine days between December 16-24. It is believed that after the early morning church services of the Catholics, worshippers began walking the streets while others went for sea baths.   From this the popular Nine Mornings festivity emerged.  Although popular opinion has this practice as starting during the period of slavery, it was more likely to have been a post-emancipation practice.

Nine Mornings features early morning street activities such as parades through the streets of Kingstown, bicycle races, string band serenades, carolling and singing. The sound of drums and steel pans, along with Vincy food and drink are very evident. Activities start early, at around 5.00 am, while it is still dark. Bay Street in Kingstown and, more recently, the Cultural Center in Calliaqua are full of people at this time. At around 7.00 am, the Nine Mornings activities give way to a regular work day.

We have covered some of the celebrations that usually takes place across the Caribbean Islands. Many of the islands are influenced by and follow the traditional celebrations that were followed by the countries that they were colonies of in former days. Overall in the Caribbean, Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of Christ, feast and be merry. It is a time full of joy and happiness, with a spicy Caribbean vibe. Are you planning a vacation to the Caribbean? Christmas may just be the perfect time.

By Norvan Martin

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