Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Caribbean Christmas

In the tropical islands of the Caribbean, the temperature is above 75 degrees from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, which means that it is warm and pleasant during Christmas. The Christmas season in the Caribbean is also pleasant because it is far removed from the rainy season, which usually occurs from late March to May. During Christmas time in the Caribbean, the temperature is also more temperate and tolerable compared to the searing hot days of the summer months.

As in many parts of the world, family, merriment, gift-giving are among the many activities that the people of the Caribbean enjoy during Christmas. Families often live in fairly close proximity to each other however. But what makes getting together at Christmas so special is that it often involves intense and laborious preparations that are not done at any other time of the year.

In many homes, an intense cleaning is done in the two or three weeks before Christmas Day. All furniture is moved and may even be rearranged and new and fancy curtains put up for the season. The best bed linens, tablecloths, cutlery and dinnerware are also used in entertaining any visitors during the season. It is a common occurrence for visitors, including people from the neighborhood, to stop for short visits during the season.

During those visits, guests are entertained with certain food and drinks, many of which are made only at Christmas time. These include fermented drinks such as sorrel and mauby, as well as the alcoholic drink rum punch. A special type of cake, called Black cake or fruitcake, is also made at Christmas. It is made with raisins and other dried fruit that are minced and placed in wine for several weeks. 

This cake is the traditional dessert for Christmas dinner. The main menu of a traditional Caribbean Christmas dinner includes baked poultry, roast beef  ham, boiled and steamed root vegetables, rice with peas, seasoned rice or rice pilaf, with sorrel, rum punch or mauby as the beverage. 

Caroling has also been a tradition, although its practiced has been declining in recent years. Small groups from churches or schools will walk through neighborhoods singing Christmas carols or, will drive from house to house to sing carols in neighborhoods primarily in rural areas where houses are not always found in close proximity.

Two Christmas traditions that are unique to the Caribbean are the practice of Jonkonoo and having a grand market. Jonkonoo consists of a group of masked revelers who take part in a parade dancing to the beats of drums, shaking tambourines and improvised instruments. The group also include stilt walkers who appear as tall as some trees and single-story buildings. Jonkonoos perform various antics to amuse onlookers and to give candies and treats to children, especially younger children who may seem scared of any of the Jonkonoo participants.

Grand market is the big outdoor market that takes place the week before Christmas up to Christmas Eve. Outdoor markets, found in the central points of regional towns, are common in the Caribbean as a place to get fresh fruits, vegetables and produce that are grown by local farmers. But at Christmas time, they also become filled with assorted items that can be given as gifts and they bustle with activity even after nightfall. It is a special treat for children to accompany parents to grand market during the Christmas season.

Since Christmas falls during the high winter tourist season in the Caribbean, Christmas is also an opportunity for many school children to perform for tourists. Many hotels take advantage of the fact that most schools and churches will have singing and dramatic groups that perform the Christmas story and sing carols and Christmas songs. These groups are often invited to provide local entertainment at hotels and guesthouses during Christmas.