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Christmas Traditions In Trinidad And Tobago

Updated on November 21, 2013

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 Decorations

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.

Christmas Culture

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.

Christmas Menu

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.

Traditional Visits

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.

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    • quildon profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Joseph 

      2 years ago from Florida

    • profile image

      joe 

      2 years ago

      How do you make coo coo.

    • quildon profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Joseph 

      3 years ago from Florida

      Okay trinigal, I didn't know that. Thanks for stopping by.

    • profile image

      trinigal 

      3 years ago

      One correction, the parang starts in October. Remember the "black pudding" a staple of Christmas morning.

    • quildon profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Joseph 

      4 years ago from Florida

      Thanks, shelpeare. It's always great to meet another Trini, especially a writer.

    • shelpeare profile image

      shelpeare 

      4 years ago

      Good to meet you quildon. I am from Trinidad too so I can identify with what you are saying to a great extent.

    • quildon profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Joseph 

      4 years ago from Florida

      Thank you so much, Mona! When I migrated to the US, I was disappointed by the way Christmas is celebrated here, but now I've grown used to it. Some years ago, I was fortunate to work with some girls from the Philippines, and I was struck by the similarity between their culture and Trinidad's. Even their cooking was similar to ours, and we became great friends. It was a sad day for me when we went our separate ways, but I will never forget them.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      4 years ago from Philippines

      I used to think that the Philippines has the longest Christmas season ever, since stores start decorating in September. But apparently, that also happens in Tinidad. What impresses me even more is how the people go to the extent of trying to have a completely new house, with new curtains and painting to the extent that their budget permits. This sort of permanent change that occurs in the home lends a new dimension to the meaning of Christmas. It's also practical and so much better than hanging up decorations that you put in a box after the season is done. I wish we could look at Christmas all around the world with the same spirit as Trinidad, as a time to do practical things and make them into beautiful things that will last all year. We should all be so fortunate to explore this added dimension of a wonderful holiday season.

    • IslandBites profile image

      IslandBites 

      4 years ago from Puerto Rico

      Yes. I will post it soon.

    • quildon profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Joseph 

      4 years ago from Florida

      Hey IslandBites, thanks for stopping by. Do you have a recipe for your pasteles?

    • IslandBites profile image

      IslandBites 

      4 years ago from Puerto Rico

      What a great hub.! We have similar Christmas traditions here in Puerto Rico.

      We also serve pasteles, but we made ours with root vegetables and green banana dough instead of cornmeal.

    • quildon profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Joseph 

      5 years ago from Florida

      Sourpatch, he's called Santa Claus.

    • profile image

      sourpatch317 

      5 years ago

      what's Santa clause called

    • quildon profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Joseph 

      5 years ago from Florida

      @Jackie. I'm sure she's a lovely person. We Trinis are among the friendliest people on earth. Thanks for your comment.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      5 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Thank you for sharing this tradition at Christmas. I have a friend I met here from Trinidad. We don't keep in touch as much as we did since she is busy working and very young with better things to do than keep me company but I sure love her. We got to be really close in the last couple years.

    • profile image

      bcgirl 

      6 years ago

      thanx very much. YOUR STORY REALLY HELPED ME ON MY REPORT

    • profile image

      devon 

      6 years ago

      that how trini do it

    • profile image

      Jack 

      6 years ago

      Good to see this. One thing...the costumes were not of Spanish origin, it's Venezuelan (Amerindian and African) to be exact.

    • quildon profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Joseph 

      7 years ago from Florida

      Thanks, C-Bless

    • C-Bless profile image

      C-Bless 

      7 years ago from Canada

      What wonderful memories to hold onto and cherish. Thank you for sharing. / Blessings

    • quildon profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Joseph 

      7 years ago from Florida

      Thanks KoffeeKlacth Gals. I do miss some of them.

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Hazelton 

      7 years ago from Sunny Florida

      The traditions sound wonderful. How you must miss some of them. I think it's great that people seem to do their great spring cleaning and redecorating for Christmas - what better time to do it.

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