As the Jimmy Buffet song says, Christmas in the Caribbean has everything but snow!
While many of the islands celebrate Christmas in a similar way, each island has their own traditional customs, music, favorite food and drinks.
The traditional Caribbean Christmas cake, most often called Black or Rum Cake, is made with fruits, spices, and aged in fine island rum.
Depending on the island recipe, the cakes can be made with or without nuts, and the darker cakes are a result of burnt sugar.
Sorrel is the drink of the season on many islands, along with homemade ginger beer. Sorrel is a maroon colored fruit which grows on a shrub like bush, and is found all through the Caribbean.
The taste can be compared to a mixture of raspberry, cranberry, and pineapple. You can have the non-alcoholic version, or add fine Caribbean rum.
The cultural differences in the Caribbean are quite diverse between historic culture of the English, French, Dutch and Spanish speaking Caribbean.
English Speaking Caribbean Islands:
Anguilla, Antigua/Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Caymans, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Kitts/Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad/Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands, and Virgin Islands (U.S. & British)
These islands not only celebrate Christmas Day, the holiday continues with the day after Christmas - Boxing Day. Several islands also celebrate Carnival along with annual island festivals during the holiday season.
One of the more unique Christmas traditions is “bursting the bamboo” on the island of St Lucia. Men use kerosene with rag and stick fuses to make canons out of hallowed out bamboo. From the end of November through New Years, you will hear sounds of bamboo bursting during the night.
French Caribbean Islands
Haiti, St Barths, St Martin, Martinique, and Guadeloupe. Guadeloupe is actually two main islands, Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre, along with the little Les Saintes, Marie-Galante and Désirade.
On the Eve of Christmas (Noel or Nwel) all of the French Caribbean celebrate réveillon (a long leisurely dinner) with family and friends. Most of the islands favorite seasonal drink is Ti Punch, however on the island of Haiti, the drink of choice is Anisette. All of the children have expectations of Pere Noel or Papa Noel bringing goodies.
Dutch Caribbean Islands
Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, St. Maarten, St. Eustatius, and Saba. A triple Christmas is celebrated on December 6th - birthday of St. Nicholas - on Christmas morning, and on January 6th when the Three Kings leave good boys and girls presents at the Nativity scene.
Sinterklaas is the Dutch version of Santa Claus, and his helpers are known as Zwarte Piets, or literally, “Black Petes”. Sinterklaas arrives in the Caribbean by boat, except on the tiny mountain island of Saba, where he arrives via Winair Airlines.
Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic both have much longer Christmas season celebrations, and on both islands the main celebration is Noche Buena (Christmas Eve).
Christmas in the Dominican Republic last approximately three months from October thru January. During this time Dominicans enjoy caroling parties, fireworks, good food, and quality family time. Seasonal drinks are Ron/Rum, Té de jengibre (ginger tea) and coffee. The expense of the Christmas season is helped by most employers who give their workers an extra months pay.
Christmas celebrations in Puerto Rico start in early December and continue to the middle of January. Nine days before Christmas, the Mass of the Carols begins each morning at 5:30 a.m. with carolers going from house to house.
The big Christmas celebrations are Christmas Eve (Noche Buena), Christmas Day (Navidad), New Year's Eve (Despedida de Año), and the most important day for children is Three Kings Day (el Día de Reyes) on January 6th, the day of Epiphany.
As you can see from the brief descriptions, the celebrations in the Caribbean region during the holiday season are quite diverse and unique.
In the next week leading up to Christmas, we will feature how particular islands celebrate the Christmas season.
First "Christmas in the Caribbean" blog posting starts with the island of Anguilla tomorrow . . .
Happy Holidays and Save Travels,
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