Given we’re in the closing stretch of Christmas, our team at BBTT was curious as to the level of significance the season still plays in Trinidad and Tobago. In doing so, we took a look at the earliest traditions and what roles they play in our society today.
Firstly, did you know that Trinidad’s first Christmas was observed in 1569? Historical records indicate that Fr. Miguel Diosdados (Reyes) led the Order of Observantines, from which six priests chose to celebrate the festival by going on a whirlwind tour of many villages, where they were treated to local cuisine. This one act set the tone by which Christmas was celebrated in Trinidad and Tobago. Through the years, it became customary for Christians, after attending Christmas services at church, that one was expected to have their home prepared for a joyous celebration of the Yuletide season, complete with a sumptuous feast of delicacies, served with that inimitable Trini warmth and hospitality.
As a result, this gave birth to the Trini tradition of pressing every pair of available hands into service, to give every home a thorough cleaning, refurbishing and decorating. If the family’s budget was tight, then creative do-it-yourself methods were implemented to ensure the home had that special Christmas feeling where everything became fresh and bright. Also, recipes for pastelles, fruitcake and the hallmarks of Christmas – ham, ginger beer, ponche de crème and sorrel – were steadily improved and passed down through the generations, highly treasured and heavily guarded.
Christmas, of course, is synonymous with carols. Trinidad and Tobago had its own vibrant twist on one of the most recognisable Christmas groups – Paranderos – who wander from house to house performing the most upbeat indigenous folk music, which originated from our South American neighbour Venezuela. Dressed as brightly as their smiles, the Paranderos set the lively tone with their own musical instruments such as the chac-chac, cuatro, bass box, mandolin, guitar, flutes and tambourines. They were both equally loved and caused immense exasperation to many a host family by waking them up at night and demanding their share of Christmas treats, especially the Christmas ham!
The Paranderos tradition still lives to this day through a small but loyal and passionate following. Some other traditions were adopted over the years, including the exchange of Christmas cards to friends and family. Usually cards with a winter theme dominated local themes. However, as Trinbagonian artists became more confident in their cultural identity, cards designed with a Caribbean Christmas theme have become more widely produced.
In keeping with the Christmas season’s spirit of generosity and goodwill to all, another beautiful Trini tradition was created by communities forming a Christmas parade of Santa with his entourage of elves, travelling through the streets, often in a fire truck, sharing toys, sweets and gift baskets to the less fortunate.
These traditions are still alive in many communities to this day, although there have been the lamentations that especially over the last decade, people are becoming increasingly isolated and more focused on the commercialisation of Christmas, the parties and pleasure, as opposed to community building and the celebration of the fundamental reasons for Christmas, which are generosity, love and goodwill to all. What are your thoughts on this dear reader?