Christmas in the Caribbean

Cayman: In the Cayman Islands, many locals still cook fresh beef for their Christmas feast rather than the ham and turkey that many folks today associate with Christmas dinner.

Fresh meat was considered a rare treat in days gone by and there are those who still say nothing tastes as good as this holiday treat.

Cooked on a fireside over slow heat – or in a large Dutch pot – the traditional Caymanian ‘Christmas beef’ remains a holiday favourite. Pork, cassava and yam cakes are popular Yuletide treats as well.

Sorrel drink is another seasonal tradition, made from dried sorrel sepals (a meadow plant), cinnamon cloves, sugar, orange peel and rum and is usually served over ice.

During Christmas, the traditional Caymanian sand yard was swept clean with rosemary brooms. Fresh white sand was then spread to brighten the yard which was often ringed with pink and white conch shells.

Jamaica: Christmas dinner is usually a big feast for Jamaicans on Christmas Day. It includes rice and gungo peas (a Christmas specialty), chicken, oxtail and curried goat. Jamaicans also prepare roast beef and/or pork as well.

In a tasty departure from North American beverages, the drink of choice for Jamaicans during the holiday season is Sorrel, which can be found in just about every single home during the Christmas season. Christmas activities in rural areas of Jamaica include a Jonkanoo celebration. Jonkanoo is a form of parade and festivities brought from Africa by the people who were taken to Jamaica as slaves. Not as popular in the cities as it was 20 to 30 years ago, Jonkanoo is still a big deal, especially in rural Jamaica.

Cuba: The most festive time during the holidays is ‘nochebuena’ or Christmas Eve. A traditional meal consisting of roast pork, black beans served over rice, fried mashed plantains and ‘yuca’ – a native tuber best known by North Americans as tapioca, but also called cassava or mandioc in other regions. Large families would roast an entire pig by digging a pit in the ground and roasting it over coals, covered with banana leaves. In the cities, an oven-roasted fresh ham was more common. For desert, a type of nougat candy from Spain called turron was traditionally served and f course, there would have been the ubiquitous Cuban flan – a very sweet custard – served with Cuban coffee, which is remarkably strong.

Costa Rica: Christmas decorations in Costa Rica consist of bright tropical flowers. Wild orchids are gathered from the jungle areas to decorate the portal (manger scene) in the home. Wreaths are popular, though they are not made from pine or holly. Instead Costa Ricans use cypress leaves and red coffee berries. Following Midnight Mass, there is a festive meal of tamales and other local dishes.

The American Santa Claus has invaded the Christmas season and children in Costa Rica no longer expect small gifts from the Christ Child to be placed in their shoes. Instead the jolly man in the red suit comes down from the North Pole, laden with big packages.

Trinidad and Tobago: The Christmas season on the islands is a very festive time for family and friends to gather together, sometimes day and night and into the next day. Parang is a specialty during the Christmas season. Groups go around serenading their neighborhoods with guitars, steel drums, tambourines, and any other kind of instrument that can be easily moved from house to house. The musical group may very well show up very late at night but it usually doesn’t matter as the people rarely sleep during this festive season.

Christmas dinner may consist of turkey, ham, pork, pastelles (a beef-filled pastry), pigeon peas, and rice. Dessert is the popular black cake of which the main ingredients is fruit that has been soaked in Caribbean rum for several weeks (longer for some recipes). Additional rum is poured over the cake after it has been baked. The Christmas beverage is gingerbeer, carib beer or sorrel drink.

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