Every year, the Christmas season always comes bearing gifts of good cheer, a collective spirit of giving and unbridled joy, as well as peak excitement for millions of children who anticipate that mysterious annual visit from Santa Claus himself. The festive time of year also brings a host of activities that are seemingly routine for adults – including intense housecleaning, manic shopping and mass cooking for the big day on December 25.
Trinidad and Tobago is well-known for its multi-ethnic contributions in Caribbean culture, that makes the twin-island Republic’s Christmas experience one of the most diverse traditions in the region.
With the help of our Twitter family, here’s our BUZZ gift to you: Five things to look out for while celebrating a true Trini Christmas!
A clear influence from our Spanish heritage, pastelles are delectable cornmeal treats stuffed with flavourful meats such as ground beef, pork and sometimes tofu, and seasoned to taste with olives and raisins. They are then wrapped in banana leaves and steamed or boiled until cooked to perfection. Popular beauty, hair and culture writer @Afrobella, who is of Trinbagonian descent and lives in the US, says that she looks forward to having this treat every year. “I get so homesick around this time,” says the godmother of Brown Beauty Blogging.
2. Ponche de Crème
With a clear French influence in name, ponche de créme is arguably Trinidad and Tobago’s official traditional Christmas drink of choice. Made with condensed and evaporated milk, aromatic bitters, nutmeg and the not-so-secret ingredient – rum, the blended, creamy mixture is often compared to eggnog of American origins or Puerto Rico’s coquito. Twitter user @originaljcl reminded us that 90’s singer Susan Macioo even referenced the drink in her song Trini Christmas Is The Best – an obvious ode to the popular beverage that has stood the test of time.
From iconic vocalists such as Daisy Voisin to popular contemporary groups such as Los Alumnos De San Juan, parang music is nestled into the very fabric of the Trinbagonian music experience during the Yuletide season. This genre of Spanish-influenced music boasts of Venezuelan, Colombian, Amerindian and Cocoa Panyol heritage, and is sometimes even fused with the soca genre. In the spirit of community, people are known to engage in “paranging houses” within close proximity to each other, where families and musically inclined merrymakers visit various households to sing the traditional parang songs and are offered food in exchange for the Christmas entertainment.
4. Black Cake
Found in Caribbean households to be a certified staple on the Christmas menu, the black cake’s seemingly ageless shelf-life is largely thanks to the alcohol-soaked currants, raisins and prunes that are included en masse in the moist dessert. Often made with sherry-brandy, this spiced delight is known to have its fruity ingredients soaked in alcohol for weeks on end before the baking process begins. Taste-testing the batter can a heavenly honour – or quite the tricky delight – for many Trinis during Christmas. Challenge accepted, indeed!
“Waking up to the smell of sorrel boiling,” as described by @imanijay, seems to be a shared tradition for many Trinis on Christmas morning. Sorrel is made from the potent hibiscus plant flower and has adapted different names throughout the African Diaspora – including Zobo drink in Nigeria and other parts of West Africa. The crimson hue of this classic Christmas drink comes after hours of boiling the petals in water and then sweetened to taste. Whether consumed alone or used as a chaser for other alcoholic beverages, it is definitely a staple during the Trini Christmas Season.
Tenille Clarke is an avid wanderlust, carnivalist and cultural enthusiast who pens about her ongoing love affair with travel, culture and entertainment through a Caribbean lens. She is the principal publicist of Chambers Media Solutions and Managing Director of Industry 360. (@tenilleclarke1 on Instagram/Twitter)