• Ivan Lowe and Yoshika Lowe

Christmas in the Caribbean & West Indies (cont.)

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

Christmas Today (continued)

The Caribbean archipelago encompasses more than 7,000 individual islands in an approximately 1-million-square-mile region. There are 13 sovereign island nations and 12 dependent territories, with close political ties throughout the region to Europe and the United States.* In this, part two of Christmas in the Caribbean & West Indies, the cuisine and customs of this region are further explored.

The Guyanese have garlic pork on Christmas morning. It is a uniquely Guyanese holiday dish and an exotic way to do pork that varies from the traditional roasting and stewing. Chicken, goat, pork and beef will also be done the Caribbean way by many Guyanese families living in Brooklyn. While oxtail and curry goat are traditional favorites in Jamaica.

Caribbean-Americans in Brooklyn routinely send back home for the spices and herbs, including sorrel and ginger, to give each drink and dish a "back home" flavor. Curry goat, stewed chicken, roast pork and stewed beef are cooked after heavy seasoning with these Caribbean herbs and spices.

In Barbados, rice and peas cooked in coconut milk or just with herbs and spices is served with the aforementioned meats. For Barbadians, in particular, macaroni pies and potato salads will sometimes replace the rice and peas. Lots of ground provisions -- yams, sweet potatoes, dasheen and eddoes - are also be part of the meal.

To wash this food down, besides sorrel, ginger beer or juice, Grenadians and Jamaicans have unique brands of rum punch. Grenadians will spice it with lime and nutmeg, making for a smooth, but potent brew laced with Clarkes Court Strong Rum. Jamaican all spice (pimento) is prominently featured in their version of punch that packs a wallop due to a heavy dose of Overproof Rum.

New clothes are traditionally bought to attend church services. Gifts for the children - the most important people at Christmas time for West Indians- are purchased then hidden. No matter how delinquent a person is when it comes to church attendance, Christmas and Easter are two holidays when church is attended. Never mind that from the church it's sometimes straight to the dancehall or house party. Folks feel comfortable at having "praised God" before going on with other worldly quests.

A major staple of any Caribbean Christmas, and one brought to New York is the traditional black cake, sometimes called "rum cake." This is made from dried fruits soaked for a time in wine. After baking, it is doused with strong rum or wine, depending on one's taste. The finished product can be cake-like or have a pudding-like consistency. No matter what, the end result is delicious, exotic, and uniquely Caribbean.

Sorrel and black cake

Sorrel and ginger beer are Christmastime drinks in many Caribbean households. Ginger beer can range from a mild drink to a hot and spicy brew - depending on taste and who makes it. The ginger is allowed to "set"-- the longer it does, the hotter the drink. Elders from the Caribbean say this drink is good for the bladder and helps settle the stomach. Perhaps that is why it is a staple during the holiday, when families indulge in feasting and drinking.

In the area of seasonal music, Caribbean-Americans enjoy traditional carols, but they also love Parang--a fusion of Spanish Merengue and Calypso that is indigenous to Trinidad & Tobago and Grenada in the English-speaking Caribbean. This is Caribbean Christmas music featuring the spice and sunshine of the Caribbean. No Caribbean Christmas party would be the same without Parang or Parang Soca.

Reggae also has special mixes and to hear traditional Christmas carols sung to a reggae beat is a treat. Some artists have taken the normal staid, low-tempo carol and given it an up-tempo, bouncy dance party flavor.

So it's Parang, and endless parties, basement fêtes and home bashes. Friends bring other friends, who bring other friends. Who minds? It's Christmas and everybody is welcome --as long as there is no trouble-making.

For real party animals, one fête is not enough; they have to "hit" no fewer than three a night. Some, after going to church, go directly into the "house to house" mode--a feature of Caribbean Christmas celebrations--returning home late Christmas evening. They get caught up in the "serenading," a term for singing and visiting "house to house." And you do not have to know whose house you will end up in. Everybody is welcome.


#ChristmasintheCaribbean #ChristmasintheWestIndies #Parang #ParangSoca