First thing about Cuba is that there was an offical Christmas in Cuba
until Castro took power in 1959. But before that, Christmas was
celebrated almost simalar to our Christmas days. On Christmas day,
everyone gets together and has a great feast. The families are very big
in number and they love to eat the delicous food. The main course of the
feast is the roasted pig. They also like to eat black beans and white
rice. On Christmas day they do not open presents but just have the
lights and decorations up. They celebrate Christmas until Jan. 6 and
that is when they open up all the presents.
Sadly these things have not been done
in Cuba for a long time. But Castro has given permission to do the
celebrations again recently. But for so long this was banned and the
young people haven't been brought up with these traditions. Sadly things
will never be the same.
Christmas in Jamaica, an island in the
Caribbean Sea, south of Cuba, has a distinctive tropical flavor ranging
from the food to the Christmas carols.
Christmas carols in Jamaica are the
same that are popular in other nations such as Jingle Bells, Oh Holy
Night, Silent Night, etc. Of course, given the Jamaican love for
Reggae, most Christmas carols can be found in their Reggae version. The
traditional versions of the songs are also well known and loved and are
heard on the popular stations from late November through Christmas Day.
Christmas dinner is usually a big
feast for Jamaicans on Christmas Day. It includes rice and gungo peas,
chicken, oxtail and curried goat. (Gungo peas are a Christmas specialty
for Jamaica. Throughout the rest of the year red peas are cooked with
the rice, but that changes to gungo peas during the Christmas season.)
Jamaicans also prepare roast beef and/or pork as well. It is usually a
spectacular feast, for those who can afford it of course.
In a tasty departure from North
American beverages, the drink of choice for Jamaicans during the
Christmas season is Sorrel. From early December until sometime in
January, sorrel is all the rage in Jamaica. It is a drink worth
travelling miles to get and can be found in just about every single home
during the Christmas season. It's made from dried sorrel sepals (a
meadow plant), cinnamon, cloves, sugar, orange peel and rum and is
usually served over ice.
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.
Like many Latin American countries,
Nicaragua retains many of the customs of old Spain. In the weeks leading
up to Christmas people stroll the streets where there are many things to
buy: candles, Nativity pictures, toys and foods. Children carry fragrant
bouquets to the alter of the Virgin and sing carols. On Christmas Eve,
church bells beckon the people to Midnight Mass. On January 6, the feast
of the Epiphany, it is the three wise men who brings gifts for the
children. Often the Holiday season concludes with a brilliant display of
As in other parts of the world,
Christmas in Costa Rica is a time for celebration and parties, sharing
and reflecting. The month of December is electric with thoughts of the
season, and busy with preparations for festivities, family get togethers
and vacations. In late November decorations begin to appear in downtown
shops, and by the second week of December everybody has lights strung,
cypress wreaths hung and Christmas trees decorated. And you can be sure
that here, too, stockings are carefully in place awaiting the arrival of
the Baby Jesus.
The traditional Christmas tree in
Costa Rica is a big evergreen branch, a small cypress tree, or dried
coffee branches. The "tree" is decorated with white paint and
brightly colored strips of paper. Lights and small colored balls, a
variety of small figures and lace are also used to adorn the greenery. A
gold star is placed on top as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem.
first celebrated in Costa Rica in 1601 when then-Governor Don
Gonzalo Vásquez de Coronado organized nationwide festivities.
A very popular Latin American
tradition--the portal--is a nativity scene constructed of mosses
and grass, colored sawdust, cypress twigs, black paper, silver glitter
and figurines representing the birth of Jesus in the manger. Along with
the traditional figures of Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, shepards, the three
wise men and the ox and mule, Costa Ricans commonly add extra
embellishments like dolls, little farm animals, tiny toys, fruits and
berries, and lights.
While Costa Rican families spend a
great deal of time arranging their portales just right, tradition
says that families who don't own a home must use a portal that
has been received as a gift--then the holy family will help them get a
house of their own. The portal is often placed under the tree
(along with the presents) but may sit on a table, platform or on the
floor in a corner of the living room. Wherever it is, it occupies a
position of honor and is a point of pride in the home. The people put a
lot of effort into making each year's portal better than the last
and the displays frequently outgrow the space under the tree or on the
table and begin to monopolize a large part of the living room.
The figure of Baby Jesus is placed in
the portal at midnight on December twenty-fourth. That's also
when the adults open their gifts. The children are told that the Baby
Jesus brings their gifts while they are sleeping. Nowadays, Saint
Nicholas has also become an important part of the custom and his rotund
presence is everywhere.
Posadas take place during the
nine days before Christmas. Originating in Spain and Mexico, the posada
consists of a group of neighbors getting together at a different
neighbor's house each day to act out the pilgrimage of Joseph and Mary
to Bethlehem. This is accompanied by singing and praying, snacks of the
season, and lots of tamales.
The Misa de Gallo, Christmas
Mass, takes place at midnight on December twenty-fifth. That is the
night that many families enjoy their traditional Christmas dinner.
The origin of
the portal is attributed to Saint Francis de Asis. It is
said that in the thirteenth century, St. Francis started making belenes--
representations of the birth of Christ-- with figures of humans
Throughout the month of December there
are parades, carnivals, parties, and religious processions in all
corners of the country. The tope has been celebrated in Costa
Rica since colonial times. Originally the activity when bulls were cut
out of the herd to be used in the bull fights, for the past forty years
it has been a formal parade of horses down the main streets of San José.
Riders from across the country come to the city to show off their best
mounts and formal duds. Today's tope includes much more than
stately horses and their proud riders. Other folkloric elements have
been introduced such as horse-drawn carriages and the famous
The tope is complemented with a
grand parade complete with floats, marching bands, dancing girls and
clowns. This also runs down the main streets of San José, turning the
city into a sea of partying humans. For many Costa Ricans this parade is
the party event of the year.
Bullfights are synonymous with the
season's festivities in Costa Rica. Popular since the colonization, they
take place in the Zapote Arena every night during the festive season.
The bulls are never harmed in the Tico version of the bullfights. The
most popular phase of the Tico bullfight is the run when dozens of young
men race into the ring en masse with the intention of frightening the
bull and provoking it to attack. Although the bull is never harmed,
occasionally one of the men is gored. The whole thing is a performance
designed to release adrenaline, relieving the frustrations of the past
Thanks to the Costa Rican government
every worker in the country has extra money in December to spend on
gifts. The aguinaldo is a government declared Christmas bonus,
given to every employee in the country by his or her employer. It is
equivalent to a full month's pay. Costa Rica was a Latin American
pioneer in the establishment of this mandatory bonus. There is also a
special drawing worth several million colones held during December by
the National Lottery Commission. As Christmas Day approaches, much of
the electricity in the air can be attributed to this Lotería Navideña.
On New Year's
Day all Tica housewives prepare for the coming year by sweeping
out the house, from one end to the other, removing the past
year's bad luck and beginning anew.
Traditional seasonal foods include the
tamal (corn flour dough stuffed with potatoes, vegetables and
pork or chicken, then boiled in plantain leaves) (here is a
recipe for Costa Rican tamales); pupusa (tortilla with
cheese, corn and whatever); vigoron (cabbage, tomato, yucca and
fried pork rind, served on a plantain leaf); and grilled pork, chicken
and sausage. Many Costa Ricans have adopted the foreign custom of eating
turkey and ham, as long as they are accompanied by the traditional Costa
Rican tamal.Rompope is also in great supply. Known by
North Americans as eggnog, it is generously fortified with dark rum or
The closing ceremony to the Christmas
season isn't until January sixth (traditionally the date the three wise
men arrived to worship Jesus) when neighbors get together for a special
prayer for the Baby Jesus. Family and friends pray the rosary and sing
Christmas carols. Then food is offered and the portal
disassembled and put away until next year.