A few words on how Christmas here is different to back home, and on our plans for a very different Christmas. Plus a few drawings by the children to remind us what Christmas is really all about.
A time for faith
The Dominican Republic is a strongly religious country so Christmas is first and foremost centred around their Christian faith and the story of the Nativity. However, Dominicans love any excuse to party so parties and celebrations run (a very close) second.
The more religious people usually go to church for the Christmas Eve service. This service called La Misa del Gall and is a Midnight Mass traditional type service. There is also a mass on Christmas Day usually held at 12 noon for those who didn’t make it to the Midnight mass or for those that like to go to both. This way they can get a little rest in between.
A time for families and friends
The main celebration happens on Christmas Eve (Noche Buena). This is when the big family dinners are held and people really get down to some substantial celebrating. Most people return to their home towns in order to enjoy the holiday with family and friends. This family gathering is the center of the holiday festivity. December 25th is just a day to recuperate.
A time to party
The celebrations start early and carry on until the end of January. We started to see our first Christmas trees in shops in early September (!) and are reliably informed that they will stay up until nearly February.
Fireworks (fuegos artificiales) are a huge Christmas tradition in the Dominican Republic. There are stands all over town selling these festive and dangerous toys to light the sky or usually just to make a big bang. Children and adults love shooting off cohetes y petardos (rockets and fireworks of all types). Due to the endemic disregard for safetey, the hospitals are especially busy at this time of year, mending burnt and mangled fingers of people who got a bit carried away with a dodgy firework.
A time to eat
A Christmas menu is very similar to the every day menu (Dominicans love their food so we feel right at home!) but there is just much more of it. A typical Christmas Eve meal will consist of fried chicken, rice and beans and salad.
Domincans loves sweets but are not big dessert eaters. At Christmas they will indulge their passion for sweet things by making a big pot of Habitualya Dulce (Sweet beans) made from kidney beans, condensed milk, sugar, spices such as cinammon and ginger and small sweet biscuits. I have tried it and it’s not for me; I prefer my beans as a savoury dish but the Domincans love it.
They also make a sweet, spicey tea (te jengibre) from ginger and cinammon and, of course, tons of sugar and this really is delicious. Ironic that they feel the need for a warming drink in winter where the temperature can drop as low as 27 degrees!
A time for gifts
Children are not given gifts until 6th January! El Dia de los Reyes / 3 Kings’ Day (also known as Epiphany) is the day when the Wise Men are believed to have arrived at the birth place of Jesus. The Kings are the gift givers here in Dominican Republic, not Santa Claus, although some people choose to give gifts on both days: December 25 in accordance with American custom and January 6th according to Dominican practice.
Dominican children wait for the arrival of the Three Kings on the eve of 5th/6th January. They do not leave carrots, mince pies and milk for Santa and his reindeer. Instead they leave grass for the camels and sweets for the Kings. They place their offerings either under their beds, outside the bedroom door or out on the outside steps of their house. These offerings are exchanged by the Kings for gifts for the little ones. Children find it hard to go to sleep and try to stay awake to see the Kings.
A time to decorate
Christmas decorations Dominican style are invariably brash. Shop fronts decorated with acres of foil and tinsel. Large inflatable Santas (and, slightly bizarrely considering the weather, Snowmen). Cut-out posters of Santa on his sleigh. A few Christmas houses (you know the ones, covered in lights from top to toe with flashing Santas/reindeer/snowmen/et al in the garden)
The Christmas tree in Dominican Republic generally is white (and invariably plastic). Since they see green year round, there is nothing very festive or unusual about having a green tree about the house. So, since most people here have never seen or are ever likely to see snow, it is a nice alternative for those looking for a reminder of something different during the festive season.
Christmas tree decorations follow the theme – bright and brash. Hundreds of lights, mirrored balls and other sparklies. Despite the constant complaints about the price of electricity, the lights go on a dusk and seem to stay on all night.
Our Christmas will, of course, be very different this year. No piles of presents around the fireplace. No houseful of grandparents and other loved ones. And definitely no snow. We definitely have some mixed emotions at this ‘family & friends’ time of year.
Santa will come here (we hope) but due to luggage allowances will only be bringing a couple of items for each of the children.
The MAdventure Clan are definitely ready for a break. The school term has been 16 unbroken weeks. We are in our final week of term but have been at school every day (bar weekends) since 1st September as there is no half term here. Exams these past 2 weeks have been (if possible) even more stressful than teaching (we may write on this separately) and I fear my ulcer is about to re-appear.
Our big family gift to ourselves is a villa up the coast for 2 weeks. It has a private pool and is 5 minutes from (clean) white sand beaches. We are all looking forward to it very much. We will be relying on guagua (public bus) to get us there so we are hoping to arrive before our 2 week stay is up!
We wish all our friends and blog followers a very very Merry Christmas and A Happy Healthy (you know who you are) New Year Thanks to all of you for your supportive emails, comments and replies – they keep us going when the going gets tough and we love to hear your news from home.
There will be lots more next year so keep watching. We have more mad plans starting to brew……
¡Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año Nuevo! Un abrazo muy fuerte y muchos besos para todos. De MadMadre, MadDad y todos los ninos xxxxxx