Here are nine festive things to do for Christmas in the Caribbean…
Planning on spending the holiday season in paradise? It’s certainly not a bad way to escape the snow and cold. Exchange your icy sidewalks and winter storms for soft sand and sunny weather, and celebrate Christmas in the Caribbean!
1. Go to a Christmas Party on “the Party Island”
What better way to enjoy lively Christmas festivities than to hang with Bajans on “the Party Island”? Queen’s Park, located in historic Bridgetown, is where the party’s at on Christmas morning. It may not be covered in snow, but the park will be lit with Christmas lights and red and green decorations as musicians play holiday tunes in the streets. The annual Christmas parade will help you get in a festive mood while you snack on delicious Bajan snacks and sip a glass of cold sorrel.
2. Attend the National Carnival in St. Kitts
You may have heard that Carnival festivals in the Caribbean begin around Easter time. However, in St. Kitts the National Carnival starts on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas. During the festivities, you can enjoy live music, street parades, dancing, and great food. Carnival lasts until New Year’s Day, so there’s plenty of time to get in on the fun, even if you arrive on the island after Christmas.
3. Witness the Maya Deer Dance in Belize
The first animal you might think of when it comes to Christmas probably isn’t a deer, but rather a reindeer. However, Mayan communities in Belize have their own traditions, one of them being the Maya Deer Dance. Dancers in the Santa Cruz area don traditional Mayan costumes and reenact an ancient tale of heroism and rescue as they “hoof it” around the stage.
In addition, hundreds of spectators flock to Dangriga to witness traditional Jankanu dance competitions. Begun centuries ago by slaves living in Belize during the colonial era, the competitions are part of Garifuna community heritage. Attend the Wanaragua Jankunu Festival to see costumed dancers dance through the streets to the constant beat of drums.
4. Meet Sinterklaas in the Netherlands Antilles
Meet Sinterklaas, the Dutch version of Santa Claus, when you visit the Netherlands Antilles. Aruba, Curacao, Bonaire, Sint Maarten, Saba, and St. Eustatius celebrate Christmas traditions from Holland. In these islands, many children recieve gifts not only on Christmas, but also December 6th, which is St. Nick’s birthday according to legend.
In Curacao, children anticipate the arrival of Sinterklaas by boat in mid-November. They bring carrots for his white horse, and receive candy in return.
5. Join the Christmas Junkanoo Festival in the Bahamas
Head to Nassau during Christmas for one of the biggest parties in the Caribbean! Parades and festivities kick off on Boxing Day and continue on New Year’s Day. Known as one of the most famous events expressing Bahamian art and culture, the festival highlights elaborate, colorful costumes and lively music.
Some version of Junkanoo has taken place every year for hundreds of years. It is believed to have stemmed from West African traditions. No one is exactly sure where the name came from, but it may be in honor of “John Canoe”, a West African chief . In colonial days, African slaves would celebrate in the streets after being given a few days off from their labors. Although slavery was later abolished, the tradition continued, and was recognized as a national holiday by the Bahamian government in the 1920s.
Note that the Bahamas isn’t the only country in which you’ll see Junkanoo celebrations taking place. Similar festivals and parades happen all across the English-speaking Caribbean. However, they may go by other names, such as John Canoe or Jonkonnu.
6. Enjoy Parang Festivals in Trinidad & Tobago
Parang festivals celebrate Christmas mainly through song, as costumed bands parade through the streets and play at concerts and parties. Head to the towns of Paramin and Arima to hear traditional folk songs sung in Spanish creole. The word “Parang” itself refers to a certain style of music. Mainly, folk music brought to the Caribbean islands from Venezuela and Colombia.
7. Learn About Mixed Traditions in Montserrat
It might surprise you to learn that the tiny island of Montserrat boasts some grandiose Christmas parties. The Lesser Antilles island holds an annual festival that lasts from mid-December to early January. Dubbed simply “Festival”, the island-wide party includes a unique mix of African and Irish traditions. Main events include a pageant queen contest, street parties, a New Year’s Day parade, and the Soca Monarch music competition. Additionally, there’s a peculiar celebration dubbed “Night of Pan” which includes live music and other performances.
8. Join the Parrandas in Puerto Rico
In Puerto Rico, locals put a Caribbean twist on traditional caroling with parrandas. Groups of singers and musicians get together to carol door-to-door. Sometimes they enter each house to share some Christmas treats and drinks. The tradition is reminiscent of the biblical Joseph and Mary’s journey to find a place to spend the night in Bethlehem on the night Jesus was born.
Local schools, businesses, and churches usually plan parrandas in advance, and even notify the residents of houses they will visit in advance.
9. Celebrate Nine Mornings in St. Vincent
Nine days before Christmas, Vincentians wake up early to parade through the streets and spread Christmas cheer. They don colorful costumes, dance and sign, and share holiday snacks and candy. In addition, it’s common to find traditional Christmas drinks like sorrel and delicious street food for sale during the festivities.
Said to have begun over a hundred years ago, the “Nine Mornings” festival most likely originated with Catholics, who sang in the streets on their way home from church services.
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