Christmas is a holiday usually celebrated worldwide in most countries on December 25th. However, each nation and territory has their own way of celebrating the holidays: in terms of food, church attendance etc. In this article, we will highlight the Traditions of Christmas in Barbados and America, pointing out similarities and differences between the two cultures.
A Barbadian Christmas
As displayed in the article “What’s on the Table for Christmas” it is evident that the Christmas table in Barbados has no shortage of food. However, there are a few dishes which MUST be present: ham, great cake and to a lesser extent Jug Jug. Jug Jug is made from a combination of pork, beef, hot pepper onions and thyme, and is traditionally derived from Scottish heritage. Great cake features a blend of dried fruits and local liquor. Preparation of a Bajan ham is also very unique as it is often glazed and adorned with pineapples, cloves and cherries.
Church attendance during the holidays is the main activity across the island. Several churches host various Christmas programs and concerts and invite attendance as they portray the Christmas Story in a variety of ways. Two of the most anticipated Christmas shows across the island are “Christmas Jazz” and “Carols by Candlelight”. When Christmas Day approaches, Bajans chose between Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, or the early morning services on Christmas Day (some do both). One of the longstanding Barbadian Christmas Day activities is Christmas in the Park, where persons visit Queen’s Park early on Christmas morning (as a substitute for or after the early morning services) dressed in their best and gather with family and friends for a Christmas concert and lime with music provided by the Royal Barbados Police Fore Band and the Tuk Band. Also, during the day, most persons make the rounds to various friends and family homes for Christmas lunch or dinner and to exchange gifts. Usually, the day is celebrated with the immediate family.
The tunes usually heard during the Christmas period are the long standing popular tunes such as “Last Christmas” by Wham and popular carols such as “Silent Night” and “Oh Holy Night”. However, Barbados has its own Christmas music featuring traditional calypso and spouge genres with popular hits including “Maize” by RPB, “Put Christ In Your Christmas” by John King and “She Mistake Me Fuh Santa Claus” by Madd featuring Eric Lewis. Music by the Merrymen and Joseph Niles is also loved and widely heard during this period.
In addition to this, as you walk or drive around the island for the holidays, at least 80% of all the houses and buildings have Christmas decorations. These range from Christmas Trees, fake snow, fake Santa Clauses and reindeers to tinsel and of course Christmas lights. Also, all the roundabouts across the island are decorated and Bridgetown, the Capital city, is decoratively lighted. Also, popular around this time is the traditional “spruce up” for Christmas. This can involve anything from painting to spring cleaning to buying new curtains and furniture for the home. And of course, there is the worldwide tradition of gift shopping and this is no different in Barbados. Many choose to use the mode of the gift exchange, which tends to save on costs while ensuring that everyone gets something at Christmas.
An American Christmas
The traditional meal served at Christmas time usually involves roast turkey, goose, duck or ham served with cranberry sauce. On some tables, you may also see Mashed potatoes and a variety of other dishes, adorned with vegetables and salads. Additionally, lunch is usually washed down with egg nog; a spice based, egg filled drink mixed with liquor. Their desserts include a wide variety of cakes including pumpkin pie, marzipan, fruit cake (not the Barbadian kind, more likely the equivalent to a Barbadian pudding), apple pie, pecan pie, coconut cake or sweet potato pie (also not to be confused with the Barbados’ sweet potato pie, also present on the Christmas table in Barbados).
At Christmas in the Americas, there is a huge emphasis on Santa Claus, the mythical figure that is said to dress in a red suit and visit the homes of all the “good” kids on Christmas Eve to deliver their Christmas presents. There are Santa Clauses in almost every mall around Christmas time and it is tradition for parents to take their kids to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what they want to get for Christmas and to have their picture taken. Children are often encouraged to write letters to Santa Claus telling him what they wish to have for Christmas. Throughout the season there is an emphasis on caroling, where groups travel from street to street, singing Christmas Carols. On Christmas Day, many Americans exchange gifts while visiting families on the day. Church attendance usually comes in the form of Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and other church activities include dinners, live Nativity scenes, choir concerts and special church services. Christmas shopping is also very prevalent, as gift giving is also a tradition in America, in addition to the sending of Christmas cards to family and loved ones, especially those who could not be home for the holidays.
As is well known, many of the most popular Christmas songs are sang by Americans and these songs, in addition to the regular carols are heard to a large extent during the holiday season. The most popular artists are Mariah Carey with her hit “All I Want for Christmas is You” and other songs on her two best-selling Christmas albums and Bing Crosby with his ole time jams such as “White Christmas” and “Silver Bells”. However, many of the popular artists each have their own versions of the popular Christmas songs.
As with most cultures, decorations are prevalent in America during the holidays but some like to use popcorn threaded on a string as decoration for the Christmas tree. Many homes also have a prominence of mistletoe and as tradition would have it, anyone caught standing underneath the mistletoe must kiss. Towns and cities decorate their streets with all kinds of Christmas Lights and decorations but the Rockefeller Center in New York is more special than others. Here, there is a huge and beautifully decorated tree in the center with an ice skating rink in front of it. Due to the prevalence of snow in same states, there is also an abundance of Snowmen, in addition to fake Santa Clauses and reindeers and a depiction of the scene when Jesus was born: Baby Jesus in the manger surrounded by his parents and the animals. In some States, there “Christmas Shops” that only sell Christmas decorations and toys – but they sell from January to December! Additionally, there are some movies that are watched every Christmas season, including “Miracle on 34th Street” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” (for the adults) and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (for the children). It must be noted however that due to the many states in America, these traditions noted here are the ones that are constant across states as each state tends to have their own Christmas tradition.
It is evident that there are some differences in the two cultures. Like America, Barbados also had midnight mass, but it diverges to an extent with the option of the early morning Christmas services, leading into Christmas in Queen’s Park, one of the longest standing Christmas traditions in the island. Additionally, there isn’t as much emphasis on Santa Claus in Barbados as there is in the States. The food is also very different. While some Bajan homes will have baked turkey and almost all will have ham, it is almost certain the preparation of the ham is different as are the other dishes served in combination with the meats. Desserts are also different as Barbadians more often than not will serve their traditional great cake before anything else.
All in all, despite the differences in culture, it is evident that most of the core aspects of Christmas tend to be shared by both cultures. These include decorations, Christmas music, church activities, emphasis on family time, gift giving and lots and lots of food! However, one important aspect that is will continue to be shared among both cultures and is the fact the Christmas season is one of the most anticipated periods for both Barbadians and Americans, young and old.
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