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Traditional Christmas Customs
GUEST BLOGGER: Michelle Doyle
Traditional Christmas in Barbados
Barbadians (affectionately known as Bajans) love Christmas and the season has been steeped in tradition for as long as I can remember. As times have changed, indeed new traditions have replaced the older ones. However, the list below in no particular order, is a compilation of these with a relatively new addition.
Christmas is about family and even those who don’t attend church during the year, do so at Christmas, be it Midnight Mass or on Christmas morning and then head to Queen’s Park after a breakfast (which possibly might include cake and ham!).
Bajans take their food seriously. It is an important part of any celebration throughout the year, particularly so at Christmas. If rice and peas, jug jug, sorrel, ham and great cake is not on the menu….it is not Christmas. Even throughout the diaspora, Barbadians living abroad, mastered the art of using local products to replicate a truly Bajan Christmas.
I distinctly remember the ham and great or black cake ritual. The ham must be intricately scored in a crisscross pattern, studded with whole cloves and glazed with pineapple or sorrel while baking. My mother would soak dried fruit with alcohol (port wine, all types of rum and falernum) in a large glass jar for months and religiously stir once in a while, adding more alcohol even after it was baked!
Decorations are a must in most homes during Christmas and some decorate the exterior, making it such a grand affair that people drive for miles to view the works of art. This tradition of driving around the island to see the lights continues to cause great excitement. As mentioned earlier, a new addition includes ‘Christmas in the Square’ where the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) Barbados Branch displays 121, 10-foot Christmas trees in Independence Square, Bridgetown. Each tree represents a country of the Commonwealth, are erected by the Barbados Defence Force and decorated by primary and secondary school students, members of youth organisations and the RCS. All topped by the flag of the Commonwealth country each depicts. This year, trees will also be set up in Heroes Square, Jubilee Gardens, the Grantley Adams International Airport as well as Government House and the General Post Office, Cheapside.
Given the climate of Barbados, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” and “Walking in a winter wonderland “are favourites that can be heard on radio stations and throughout shops from 1 December. Christmas music can even be heard on rotation from 1 October, causing great debates around allowing Barbadians to celebrate Independence (30 November) first. Over the years, local musicians have produced their own Barbadian music selection with Maisie by Red Plastic Bag topping the list.
Christmas morning in Queen’s Park, Bridgetown is where you can see the young and old resplendent in their finery. Many friends and families meticulously plan their attire months in advance. Those who don’t attend ensure they watch the coverage as entertainment is provided by leading gospel artists.
Sorrel drink image: courtesy Barbados Museum & Historical Society