A look at Christmas celebrations in some Caribbean countries
With all due respect to Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer and his well-established position in the Christmas celebrations, when it comes to Caribbean Christmas Rudolph is oust by the sight of the prancing ‘pot hound’.
Those eager, hungry dogs of unknown parentage are typically found wandering the streets and happily devour the remains from Caribbean Christmas lunches. That is only the beginning of those things that give that unique flavour to the Caribbean Christmas.
In addition to the prancing pot hounds, those who live outside the cities of the Dominican Republic are likely to be welcoming groups of singers as they stroll through the neighbourhood singing those traditional Dominican Christmas folk songs.
These Christmas folk songs are but one aspect of the many musical modes and moods to be enjoyed during a Caribbean Christmas. Other festivities include the annual Carriacou Parang Festival in Grenada held the weekend just before Christmas. Merriment music can be heard from the maracas and mandolins together with calypso-flavoured music along with the drums, guitars, tambourine and much more.
Calypso music surely would not be the only thing being flavoured. Even with a mild awareness of Caribbean culture, it would be easy to appreciate that once there is a festivity there is well-flavoured food. Even in the strongly French-influenced Guadeloupe, this tradition continues today where the Christmas Midnight Mass is followed by the ‘reveillon’, or late-night meal. At those times focus turns to the Baked Pig, fresh ham or roasted pork that makes the centerpiece for the meal. This is usually complemented with ‘Riz aux Pois Congo’ or rice with Congo peas. Of course, there is also the locally prepared rum drink called ‘shrubb.’ Shrubb is noted for being infused with cinnamon and clove spices and perfumed with macerated clementine peels.
Those in Jamaica would also be going to church and gathering for their large meal. Whether they opt to cook using the traditional coal pot or not the Jamaican Christmas feast generally includes many meats from oxtail, roast ham, curry goat, chicken, roast beef and pork with rice and Christmas gungo peas. This main feast goes together with the Jamaican-style Christmas fruitcake that is well soaked in rum.
As with the other aspects of the season, the music reflects local culture. You can expect to hear those reggae Christmas songs playing throughout the streets.
Music continues to be a big feature as Parang forms part of Christmas festivities in twin-island Trinidad and Tobago. Parang bands entertain with music from the bass drum, the guitar, iron, ‘shack-shack’ and the quatro, with musical selections including both traditional and Soca Parang. A Trinbago favourite and tradition for the season is the pastelle, a cornmeal pasty filled with meat, flavoured with olives, capers, raisins and the banana leaves, which is used for wrapping. Also, quite popular is that ponche de crema, an eggnog-like drink with added rum.
Pastelles persists as a Christmas tradition in Puerto Rico where kitchen tables are cleared to organize the different parts for pastelle production. While on the outside, suckling pigs are roasted slowly over hardwood fires, eventually for enjoying with ‘arroz con grandules’ or rice and pigeon peas.
The meal is finished off with small glasses of ‘coquito’ or Puerto Rican eggnog.
Instead of pastelles, those in Guyana favour the pepper pot, especially on Christmas morning.
“Boom Boom Sally” or “Bam Bam Sally” is another unique aspect of Christmas in Guyana. This character is a lady in flowing skirt and high stilts with the face of a woman and a cow and a wood and fabric cow-shaped structure that opens for a man to be placed inside.
There is no ‘boom boom sally’ in Suriname, but neither is there Santa Claus. Instead, there is “Goedoe Pa” or “Dearest Daddy” who enjoys the cookies and milk put there by the children as he and his servants go about leaving presents in children’s shoes. In Suriname, December 26, is known as “Tweede Kerstdag”. In the French Caribbean, they keep the season going well up until January 6, known as “Three Kings’ Day”. On this day “les Rois” or the coming of the Three Wise Men is commemorated. It is only after this that Christmas trees are taken down.
By Kerriann Toby
Kerriann Toby holds a Master of Counselling and Bachelor of Psychology. She is a dynamic therapist, trained mediator; and educator since 2000. In addition to being a trained educator, mediator, and therapist, she is a certified Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) Professional. Kerriann has also trained in cyber counseling and holds clinical registration with Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) & Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA).
In mid-October 2015 she initiated operations of KarryOn geared toward the provision of a variety of enhancement and developmental services for the individual, groups and the organization; e-Coaching/Counseling, Mediation, EAP Services and the creative presentation of psycho-social information. She can be reached at email@example.com.