Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas In Aruba

"Bon Pasco" is how you say "Merry Christmas" in the local Papiamento language

Aruban society has been traditionally influenced by the Dutch, however there has been a great influence by many other cultures. 

Dutch and Papiamento are the official languages of the island, but most Arubans speak a minimum of four languages including English and Spanish. Papiamento is unique to the islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, and has an Afro-Portuguese Creole origin. 

December is jam packed with island festivities. Aruba has a tradition of multiple Christmas related celebrations, and the island is also gearing up for the annual Carnival season.  

Sinterklaas - the Dutch version of Santa Claus - brings presents and sweets on the night of his birthday, December 5th. 
Then on Christmas Day, Santa Claus leaves presents under the tree. And finally on January 6th, the Three Kings leave gifts at the Nativity scene. 

In November Sinterklaas and the Zwarte Piets arrive in Aruba by boat. Thousands of Aruban children sing songs, and anxiously await their arrival at the dock.   

Sinterklaas has a traditional long white beard, wears a red bishop's robe, along with a red mijter (bishop's hat). He carries a gold staff known as a crosier, and the big book with all the names of children who have been naughty or nice. 

Sinterklaas helper's are called Zwarte Piets (also called Black Pete's) who dress up in black face with red lips, curly wigs, and 16th century clothing. The Piets provide entertainment along with throwing candy and round ginger bread like cookies to the crowd. 

The big parade starts once Sinterklaas and the Piets come ashore

The event is broadcast on the national television and radio stations. While on the island they visit schools, hospitals, shopping centers and parties during their stay. 

On the night of December 5th, Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) birthday, children put a note telling him what they would like - along with carrots, hay, and sugar cubes in their shoes. The shoes are set outside the house, and if they have been good, they will find gifts and sweets when they awake.  

The shoe goodies are actually for the white horse Sinterklaas rides in the traditional Dutch Christmas story. 

Sinterklaas sweets via 

Traditional Sinterklaas sweets are chocolate letters which include the first letter of the child's name, along with chocolate coins, chocolate figurines wrapped in foil, and gingerbread bits. Pepernoten also a favorite, is a cookie like candy made of flour, sugar, anise, cinnamon, and clove. 

Aruba becomes a glittering wonderland at night

Locals love to decorate their houses for the season, and one of the favorite pastimes is driving around to view the elaborate Christmas light displays. A few of the party buses offers special Christmas light tours for visitors. 

Traditional Holiday Music

During the holiday season you will hear a variety of music around the island including Sinterklaas music, Christmas carols, Carnival music and Gaita - a style of Venezuelan folk music. The Gaita bands perform all around the island at business sponsored events, malls and even supermarkets. 

The music of Aruba has its origins in Venezuela, and over the years Aruban's have fused their own flavor producing a unique rhythm. Traditional instruments include the maraca, cuarta, and tambu. Unlike traditional Christmas carols, the seasonal music in Aruba will have you dancing to the beat. 

Dande is the traditional island music, and no other island in the Caribbean has a Dande tradition. The sounds of Dande normally welcome in the New Year. The origins come from liberated slaves who visited homes on New Years Eve playing the drum (tambu), and wishing everyone blessings and prosperity. 

Traditional Christmas Food 

As with the music, the traditional Christmas cuisine is a mix of cultures with Christmas glazed ham, Stuffed turkey, Chicken with raisins, Ayaca, Arros con pollo, and Oliebollen which is similar to dumplings. Pumpkins soup is also on the menu, along with an array of salads and snacks. An old island tradition is a spicy dish called Sult which is pickled in onions, vinegar and peppers. 

Another favorite is Ayaka - meat stew with capers, raisins, prunes and olives wrapped in cornmeal, and bound together in plantain leaves.

Traditional Christmas cakes are Dark Fruit Cake, Pistachio Cake, Panettone (Italian sweet bread) and a favorite bread is Pan de jamón - a traditional Venezuelan Christmas bread. Christmas drink favorites are Chuculati Pinda (hot sweet peanut drink) and Ponche Crema which is somewhat similar to Egg Nog. 

Aruba Carnival  

If you plan to be on the island in January, it's all about Carnival. Aruba has one of the longest and biggest island Carnival celebrations with two months of events. Carnival kicks off with the Lighting Parade, a night time extravaganza featuring parade marchers who have tiny lights sewn into their costumes. 

The two month celebrations is filled with parties, floats, luxurious costumes, marching bands, and the music of Antillean Tumba, Steel Bands, Calypso and Salsa. 

After the Children’s Parades, and Grand Carnival Parades in San Nicolas and Oranjestad, carnival culminates with the midnight burning of King Momo - a life-size effigy of the spirit of the Carnival. Visit for the complete Carnival schedule

Seasons Greetings & Happy Travels,

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