As nomadic wanderers, we have spent a few Christmases away from home, the food and traditions vary, yet there are common factors in every culture.
We spent Christmas 2015 in Barbados. Although far from family and friends, we did not experience the cold hotel style of a typical Christmas vacation. We were fortunate to experience firsthand how some of the local Bajans celebrate the holidays.
To get into the Christmas spirit, we participated in what is now an annual tradition and attended ‘Carols at the Abbey’. St Nicholas Abbey hosts a special fundraiser each year. The police band provides the music and in between the crowds Carol singing efforts, local artists step in to sing their favorites. Traditional nibbles such as mince pies and sausage rolls are on hand as is a bar with all proceeds going to the hospital. Guests can also bring a wrapped gift for one of the islands less fortunate children. It was a fun few hours and we were able to support two very good causes.
Like elsewhere in the world the shopping frenzy builds. The peak is on Christmas Eve, roads were clogged, supermarkets packed and (rumor has it) the police had to be called in to calm down some shoppers fighting over decorated slab cakes. With no demands on our time, any big meals to cook or mountains of presents to buy, we spent the day at the beach and avoided the chaos!
Although relative strangers to Barbados we already had invitations for Christmas Eve and for Christmas Day. Our neighbors had invited us to join them for their family’s traditional formal dinner featuring roast suckling pig. Intrigued we gladly accepted and were warmly invited in. The long table immaculately clad in antique linens, fine china, sparkling crystal and candelabras was a feast in itself. Dominating the further end of the room was a ‘Bajan’ Christmas tree. Although imported pines are available here, this family had made its own. Every year they ride around the property picking out choice branches from the local casuarina trees, they are then tied together to create a Xmas tree. The finished product may not always resemble a pine tree in shape but the delicate frond like branches make a great backdrop for the fun part ……… adding myriads of colored lights, baubles and garlands.
Like all good celebrations, people gathered in the kitchen. As the pork was being carved, the crackling was disappearing as fast as it was ready. Once our hostess was ready we sat down to pumpkin fritters, aubergine pie, potato soufflé, pepper pot, melt in the mouth pork and mushroom gravy. Wow, it was a treat for the taste buds as was the moist ‘fruit cake’ served after.
We were deeply touched and a little embarrassed, to be included in the families gift giving, as we had no gifts to give in return, just our heartfelt thanks. We wandered home full of great food and gratitude for an evening of such Christmas cheer and tradition.
Christmas Day dawned with two invitations, the first was a visit to a friend’s home for a few nibbles and some Christmas cheer. We arrived to find a home full of immediate family, in laws, cousins, aunts, uncles and friends, all greeting us with welcoming hugs and handshakes. Little did we know that we were going to be treated to yet another feast. The star of this show was the traditional ham and the pepper pot (our hostess has a reputation to uphold for her great pepper pot) and it was worthy of its reputation, meats slow cooked for days with cassareep and spices. Everyone helped themselves and then balanced loaded plates on knees or wherever they could find a handy spot. In the midst of this, others popped in to drop off gifts and share quick hugs before heading out again. Although reluctant to leave these friendly Bajans we dragged ourselves away as we had one more meal to attend.
After heading home for a quick nap, we were off once again to another part of the island and another friends gathering. This was an adult only dinner, with guests from all corners of the globe including some Swedes escaping their cold winters. Once again, we all congregated in the kitchen before sitting down to our hosts specialty of roasted chicken, macaroni pie and corn pie, accompanied with roasted squash, veggies and gravy. The conversation flowed as readily as the wine, crackers were pulled, silly jokes shared and yes those embarrassing paper hats donned.
We have celebrated Christmas in Canada, England, Belize, the Philippines and now Barbados. This year will stand out as the one where we were welcomed in as (relative) strangers yet left as friends. All of our host’s hospitality, generosity and the acceptance shown by their family and friends bring home the true spirit of Christmas.
Thank you Barbados