In Trinidad and Tobago, people are already getting in the Christmas spirit as early as September and October, when parang, a style of Caribbean folk music, begins to be played on the radio. Parang will continue to be frequently aired until January 6th, which is Epiphany and the end of the holiday season.
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Parang originally employed specifically Christian lyrics, and though now nearly everything in Trinidad and Tobago is sung about in parang, it is often used with Christmas themes as the holiday season begins to arrive. In fact, carollers, called “paranderos,” are accustomed to going door to door singing parang songs. They are often rewarded with a snack, such as ham or a drink. Also, parang competitions, concerts, and parties take place throughout the festive season.
As Christmas gets even nearer, a “Christmas breeze,” which is somewhat chilly by Caribbean standards, arrives. This is another “bell weather sign” that Christmas is near, besides the parang playing on the radio.
In Trinidad and Tobago, it is customary to not only thoroughly clean out your home in preparation for Christmas but to renovate and redecorate it. New curtains, furnishings, household appliances, and more are shopped for and put in place. This is also the time of year to re-paint your house’s exterior and every single room.
People also traditionally re-varnish old furniture for Christmas and re-stain hardwood flooring. This gives the house a new shine for the Yuletide, but unfortunately, Christmas guests have often gotten stuck to their seats after a last-minute varnish job didn’t try in time.
Most families spend Christmas at home together and visit friends and relatives. They will put up lights and other decor in preparation for the party. Flowers are often used as decorations as well, but they are often artificial ones with petals of paper and stems made from the spine of a coconut tree leaf.
Many times, people will travel from house to house to visit and eat at parties of various acquaintances, and special cuisines are served from the middle of December all the way through early January instead of just on Christmas Eve and Day.
Food is a huge part of Christmas in Trinidad and Tobago, and there are many traditional dishes. Apples, pears, grapes, and “sorrel,” a local fruit, are considered treats. Sorrel is also boiled, strained, and spiced to make a special “red sorrel” Christmas drink. Three other important holiday drinks are ginger root beer, “peardrax,” a pear-flavored soft drink, and “ponche de creme,” a citrus-laden version of eggnog.
Other common foods a the Christmas table include: boiled ham, homemade breads, pan de jamon (ham bread), blood sausage, turkey, chicken, duck, beef, fish, “pastelles” (tamales), and “paimees,” which are boiled corn-meal balls.
Those in Trinidad and Tobago for the Christmas season may want to partake of any or all of the following activities:
- Tune in to 24-hour-long parang radio marathons. There will also be some other traditional, local songs played as well as some imported form the United States. You may also wish to attend some village parang contests or view national contests on the TV.
- Taste and take in the aroma of “black cake,” a kind of fruit cake that is traditional Christmas food in Trinidad and Tobago. Raisins and other fruits are left to soak in rum, sherry, or cherry-flavoured wine for days on end. Then the fruits are baked into the cake. You can buy black cake at local shops or order it in restaurants.
- If still in Trinidad and Tobago after December 25th, here are some additional things to do. On Boxing Day, December 26th, there will be numerous horse races to attend. From the end of December through the first week of January, you can attend the kite-flying festival in the town of Plymouth on the island of Tobago. On New Year’s Eve, there will be fireworks displays and numerous parties.
Trinidad and Tobago has many unique traditions for tourists to learn and enjoy, and there is not better place to experience a “Caribbean Christmas.”