Christmas – Caribbean Style
It’s that time of year again. You can’t move your trolley round the supermarket without banging into displays of mince pies, you’re starting to panic about your Christmas shopping (or lack of), and that organised person in the office has written all her cards already. Pretty soon, you’ll be putting up the decs and praying for snow. But have you ever wondered what it would be like to celebrate Christmas in another country? One where the temperatures soar and the traditions are nothing like you’ve come across before?
In the Caribbean, locals go all out to celebrate the festive season. But, thanks to year-round sun and beaches you could fry an egg on, huddling up around the fire isn’t exactly an option. Instead, it’s all about parties, parades and plenty of singing and dancing. Here’s a taster…
Mexico – Posadas Processions & Poinsettias
In Mexico, the party seasons starts in a pretty unusual way. Nine days before Christmas, the Posadas processions begin. In towns and villages across the country, families and friends group together and divvy themselves up into innkeepers and pilgrims.
Like Joseph and Mary – San José y la Virgen María – the pilgrims knock on three different doors looking for lodgings. They hold candles as they walk, so the streets are full of little lights. When the innkeeper answers, the pilgrims sing a song asking for a room, and the innkeeper responds in song, too. Of course, the third one invites them in and everyone gets the food and drink out.
That aside, Mexico has a pretty unusual claim to Christmas fame. Legend has it a poor boy called Pablo had no offering to make to the baby Jesus on Christmas Day. So, on the way to church, he picked up a branch from the side of the road. When he placed it by the manger, bright red leaves grew. According to Mexicans, this is how poinsettias – those brilliant scarlet pot plants you see during the festive season – arrived in the world.
There’s still time to book a Caribbean coast Mexico Holiday.
Cuba – Pigs On Spits & The Pope In Revolution Square
1969 wasn’t a great Christmas for Cubans. Fidel Castro banned – yes, banned – the Christmas holiday because it interfered with sugar production, the mainstay of the Cuban economy back then. He didn’t restore it until 1997 when the Pope paid the island a visit. So it’s no surprise to learn that Cubans now celebrate the festive season in a pretty major way, putting as much effort into it as they do their salsa dancing.
Interestingly enough, Christmas Eve – Nochebuena – is a bigger event than Christmas Day here. And Cubans don’t do things by halves when it comes to family gatherings. Dozens of relatives – including even the most distant – gather together for an epic party. There’s always plenty of singing on the cards, including a few carols, like Noche de Paz, or Silent Night. Some families even roast a pig on a spit, and wash it down with a cuba libre or three.
Later on, people from miles around pile into Havana’s Revolution Square for midnight mass. Some will manage to get in to the cathedral but, for the rest, it’s a case of watching the Pope’s mass on huge TV screens. As the clock strikes midnight, church bells chime out all over the city as everyone welcomes in the first few moments of Christmas.
There’s still time to book a Holiday to Cuba.
Trinidad & Tobago – Parang Parades
In Trinidad and Tobago, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Parang parades, where groups of Parranderos literally sing for their Christmas supper. Around six singers, accompanied by musicians playing things like chac-chac maracas and cuatro guitars, roam the streets belting out tunes to announce their arrival.
Local families listen and invite them in for a glass of spicy cider or babash home brew, and a plate of cornmeal patties. To say thank you, the Parranderos serenade them with traditional songs that get louder and livelier as the babash flows. Everyone gets on their feet for the traditional dances – a slower, waltz-like number, and a livelier one that’s popular with a younger crowd.
Have you celebrated Christmas in the Caribbean? Tell us what it was like here.