Christmas Traditions In Trinidad And Tobago
I was born and grew up on the island of Trinidad. In case you don't know, Trinidad is the most southerly of the West Indies and lies just about seven miles off the north-eastern tip of Venezuela. As a child growing up in Trinidad, I could hardly wait for Christmas, as it meant receiving gifts and toys, visits from friends and relatives and lots of food.
Christmas preparations usually start months before Christmas, maybe as early as September, when the stores begin displaying their Christmas merchandise. My mother would shop for Christmas curtains and decorations so she could have them ready for Christmas. Curtains and drapery have always been, and I believe still are, a focal point of decorating. New curtains and drapes have to be bought and sewn every year. The fabrics are gorgeous and range from nylon to lace to heavy brocades depending on the person's status. Every homeowner, rich or poor, prides herself on having a home that looks almost brand new for Christmas, therefore it is quite common to see homes being painted, trees and hedges being trimmed, and new furniture being delivered. The Christmas tree with all its dazzling ornaments adds the finishing touch.
Early in December, the parang bands begin appearing. These bands consist of a small group of men who go from house to house serenading the inhabitants with Spanish songs to the accompaniment of the guitar, cuatro and the maracas . Where these are not available, the band may improvise by beating a spoon against a bottle in time to the melody. In exchange for the free entertainment, the home owner brings out a bottle of rum or some other alcohol and some delicacies. In addition to the house serenaders, there are parang competitions at various venues where men and women dress in colorful Spanish costumes and sing and dance their way to winning a prize, or just revel in the joy of the moment.
On the heels of the serenaders may come a band of Christmas carollers, dressed in their white outfits with red capes and carrying red paper lanterns through the darkened streets. They were always welcome at every home and they too would receive a benevolent offering along with refreshments.
Eggnog is traditionally served at breakfast, along with ham and homemade breads. The ham is the main item on the Christmas menu. Baked or boiled, depending on the type, it is decorated with cloves and/or pineapple. The Christmas dinner table boasts a lavish display of roast pork, pastelles (a patty made from cornmeal and stuffed with meat), turkey, chicken, stewed pigeon peas and callaloo. This is the national dish made from dasheen leaves, okra and crabs. Some homes may even serve wild game such as opossum, armadillo, deer and others. These mouth-watering dishes will be washed down with ginger beer, sorrel and homemade wines. After all of this, you may not have room for the fruitcake dessert, but that's okay, because it lasts a long time and your friends and neighbors will be all too happy to help you dispose of it.
The main tradition of the Christmas season is going to church and visiting friends and relatives. Church services are held either on the night of Christmas Eve, or early Christmas morning. After the service, you may pop in for a quick visit to some friends. You will be sure to carry a gift and you can count on receiving one in return. You are also expected to eat or drink something at each house you visit, so by dinner time you may be already full. But there is always tomorrow, Boxing Day, when you can start all over again.