9. 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.