All over the world, people get together with friends and family to celebrate the holidays. They exchange gifts, and invite each other to their homes for parties, lunches, or dinners, to share a message of peace and goodwill.
In South Florida, these holiday festivities often differ from the traditional holidays we are used to seeing. Blessed not to endure the cold and drafty winters of the North, the holidays are spent in the sun and on the beach — often without the need for a sweater.
Since it’s a highly diverse area, many cultures share their holiday traditions in the South Florida sun. With this melting pot of cultures and religions, Floridians find a way to add their special touch to the festivities.
Normally, music plays a role in making holidays special. Throughout the world, traditional carols are frequently played or sung, many of which originate from America or Europe.
However, in South Florida, some Christmas carols are sung to a Caribbean or Latin beat. For many Trinidadians in South Florida, Christmas music is infused with the country’s Spanish heritage, and Parang — an indigenous music that has Latin rhythms and is sung in Spanish — fills Trinidadian homes.
“In Trinidad, Christmas is the time when the Spanish cultural influences really come to the fore,” said Aaron Hosein, a second year pharmacy graduate student .
The cuisine at this time of year makes for a great feast, as the holidays are known as a time when food and drink are consumed in abundance. A typical Vincentian — of the Caribbean island St. Vincent — Christmas dinner will have ginger beer, ham, green peas baked chicken, mutton, beef, rice, pies, salads, and black cake. It will also include “sorrel”, a staple Christmas drink throughout the Caribbean.
Christina Johns, a senior biology major from St. Vincent, said “Christmas is not Christmas without a bottle of local Black wine”.
Other countries have similarly grand feasts, each with their own specialties. In Barbados, you’ll hear about “jug-jug”, a dish made from ham, guinea corn flour, and green peas. In Trinidad, it’s all about “pastelles” – small meat-filled pies, and “ponche de crème”- a rum drink similar to egg-nog.
In addition to food, many other American traditions are taken on with a cultural twist: Christmas carols of American origin are sung with calypso flair. There are also Santa Claus and “snow themed” decors, which, according to Hosein, are “definitely not indigenous in origin”.
No matter the culture, the holidays are a time of excitement, and social events and parties are always ongoing.
“In Jamaica, people say it’s our Carnival,” said Francis Wade, a freshman business management major, referring to the traditional Brazilian festival.
Wade, a Jamaican national, said that a key part of a Caribbean Christmas is that members of the diaspora — Jamaicans who no longer live on the island — “come back to visit and spend time, so the social scene is quite active.”
Christmas time generates high profits for businesses throughout the world. Caribbean and Latin people are sometimes stereotyped for their love of shopping, which is seen by some locals as one of the effects of the Americanization of traditional Christmas celebrations.
Because of this, although the holiday season has its origins in religious events, many people have no trouble celebrating Christmas, the most commercialized of all December holidays, without religion.
Aliyah Hill, freshman biology major, believes that family time is most important, because she does not align herself with a single religion.
“We consider ourselves Universalists, because there are several religious opinions in my family: Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, and agnostic,” she said.
Although she celebrates Christmas by exchanging presents on Dec. 25, her grandfather has a clever method of acknowledging all of December’s holidays.
“He writes ‘Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza and Merry Christmas’ on all of our gifts. It’s always funny.” she said Hill.
Christmas Eve holds a special meaning for many Latin Americans living in South Florida. “Noche Buena” — Latin Christmas Eve — is a beloved tradition centered on a pig roast at a family dinner after Christmas mass.
“The tradition has changed a bit since the traditional digging a hole in the yard — and cooking a pig in that hole — doesn’t always apply to those living in Miami, than it did in Cuba,” said Jose Carrea, freshmen biology major, whose Cuban family still hosts a “Noche Buena” dinner every Christmas Eve.
Another Latin Christmas tradition is the serving of “turron”, a Spanish almond candy. Its origins are in Spain, and it still remains popular in the Spanish-speaking nations of Central and South America.
Spanish traditions usually maintain close ties to religion during Christmas. Masses and holiday concerts in churches are a popular family pastime.
Kassandra DeCoro, freshman biology major, said, “On Christmas morning, my entire extended family goes to church to watch a religious play and a concert. This is the most joyous time for us because we’re all together.”