South of Currier and Ives

Islands embrace festive holiday traditions

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Maura Curley

Rastafarian santas, calypso carols, tree ornaments fashioned from seashells and strings of multi-colored lights illuminating palms, characterize just some of the holiday celebrations here.

The Caribbean has a magical mix of traditions, in a patchwork of West Indian, English, Spanish, French and Dutch culture. This diversity sparkles from the Bahamas to Belize.

In the Bahamas, a former British colony, and in Barbados, old English Christmas traditions are spiced with Caribbean flavor. The Bajan great cake is a holiday staple in Barbados, which begins being prepared as early as October. Fruit for this cake is marinated in rum and port wine for at least a month until “stirrup Sunday,” when this intoxicating mixture is added to the rest of the ingredients and baked in a slow oven for four or five hours. After it is complete, the cake is wrapped and aged for at least a month until the Christmas season.

Bajan great cake is often enjoyed with sips of sorrell, a sweet scented mixture made from boiling sorrel leaves, adding bay leaf, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar with falernum, also known as Jamaican hibiscus flower.

The first time I ever heard a reggae Christmas Carol I was struck by the universality of the season. I felt the backbeat and passionate spirit while being moved by the familiar words from childhood.

In Jamaica during the weeks surrounding Christmas the strains of reggae Christmas songs fill the air.They're everywhere, especially near the coconut and Red Stripe vendor’s stands strung with colorful lights and tinsel. Processions of masked Jonkanoo men parade down the streets, beating drums to welcome a dawning of another Christmas morn. .

The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico celebrate Christmas with Spanish spice. Dominicans celebrate Nocha Buena on Christmas Eve, when families gather around a white Christmas tree and share a feast. But gifts are not presented to one another until Three Kings Day the first week in January

A parranda is still practiced in Puerto Rico. This is when a group of trullas or carolers, gather congas, maracas, and guitars about 11p.m. and head to an unsuspecting friend’s house, to play music outside, until the door, is open and the trullas are asked in to share food and drink. When the trullas move on the host may join in the merriment, accompanying them to the next house. This party lasts until about 4 a.m. Puerto Rican religious traditions are strong, and la misa del gallo, a midnight mass is always celebrated prior to Christmas day.

Nine Mornings Festival is celebrated annually during the nine mornings before Christmas December 16 to December 25 in St. Vincent. Nine Mornings before Christmas, Vincentians awake in the early hours of the morning before dawn. There are baths in the sea sea, dances, bicycle riding and street concerts. In the rural areas, the final morning of the festivity usually ends with a steel band “jump-up.”

In Aruba, one of the ABC islands in the Dutch Netherlands Antilles, Christmas is a an occasion for eating ayaca, salted ham and salmon, and visiting with family and friends to wish them Bon Pasco and Bon Anja.

And in Suriname, a country in the north Coast of South America which has many ethnic influences, holiday wishes vary between the Dutch “ Zalig Kersfeest” and the melodious greeting in the cross cultural language of Sranan Tongo: Wang Swietie Kresnetie.

Photo: Dancers pose during a break in a pre Christmas parade in Old San Juan just outside Virgin Voice Publications office.

virginvoices photo by D.B. Bostdorf


Maura Curley is editorial director for virginvoices.com


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