Christmas in Haiti

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In Haiti, at the beginning of December, people start looking for Christmas Trees. They might cut pine branches or go to the market and get trees brought from the mountains. The trees are decorated with bright ornaments. At the bottom of the tree is a large nativity scene. Sometimes the trees and scenes take up a lot of the living room! Churches and other organisations also have trees on display. Artificial trees are also more common as they last longer!

People also fix and redecorate their homes ready for Christmas.

In Haiti Happy/Merry Christmas in Creole/Hatian is ‘Jwaye Nowe’. French is also commonly spoken in Haiti where it is ‘Joyeux Noël’. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages.

On Christmas Eve, children place their newly cleaned shoes, filled with straw under the tree on the porch. They hope that Santa (called ‘Tonton Nwèl’) will remove the straw and put presents in and around the shoes!

Often, lots of houses in neighborhoods are open with all lights on until about 3.00am! Children are normally allowed to go out and often the parents don’t know were they are in the early morning – the older children are expected to look after the younger ones! And children of all ages are also allowed to drink ‘Anisette’, which is a slightly alcoholic drink that’s made by soaking ‘anise’ leaves (the spice where star anise comes from) in rum and sweetening it with sugar.

Some people go to a Midnight Mass church service, or you might go out carol singing. After the Mass, people come home and eat the main meal called ‘reveillon’ (it’s a French term meaning ‘to wake up’ and is what the main meal is also called in France). The meal normally starts in the early hours of Christmas morning and lasts until the dawn!

Christmas Day is much quieter with people sleeping off the celebrations of the night before! However, there will be more eating and playing with the toys from Tonton Nwèl.

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, however, in Haiti it is widely celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike as a holiday with non-religious aspects.

Some of the secular activities have become extremely popular in Haiti.  In the beginning of December, it is a tradition that Haitians cut pine branches to serve as Christmas trees or go to the market and get freshly cut trees brought from the mountains. They decorate them with bright ornaments, and at the base add a large nativity scene, which could occupy a large part of their living room. This is also a practice used by institutions, organizations and churches as well. To make the decorations last longer, Haitians buy artificial Christmas trees with bright ornaments and decorate the front view of compounds with multicolored lights and animation.

On Christmas Eve, children place their shoes, nicely cleaned up and filled with straw, on the porch or under the Christmas tree. Tonton Nwèl (Santa Claus) is expected to remove the straw and put presents in and around the shoes.

Children are normally allowed to go out and often the parents don’t know were they are in the early morning – the older children are expected to look after the younger ones! And children of all ages are also allowed to drink ‘Anisette‘, which is a slightly alcoholic drink that’s made by soaking ‘anise’ leaves (the spice where star anise comes from) in rum and sweetening it with sugar.

All houses in the neighborhood are open with all lights on until about three o’clock in the morning. Some people go to midnight Mass. Others go out in the neighborhood in groups, caroling. After the Mass, people come home and eat the main meal called ‘Reveillon’ (it’s a French term meaning ‘to wake up’ and is what the main meal is also called in France). The meal normally starts in the early hours of christmas morning and lasts until the dawn! The occasion is, however, more a breakfast than a supper.

Christmas Day, December 25th, which is the official Christmas Day is usually much quieter with some people sleeping off the celebrations of the night before! There’s a lot of eating and drinking, singing and playing with the toys brought by Tonton Nwèl in the middle of the night. The children might also play with fireworks that they mostly made themselves from chemicals bought in stores.

Here is the definition and explanation about some of the holiday traditions, this is far from an exhaustive list and many of these traditions vary from place to place and family to family!

Reveyons: Usually following a midnight mass on December 24th, families and friends gather together to celebrate and share.  These all night parties are known as Reveyon.

Wosle:  This is a game that the children play while the adults enjoy the evening, it’s similar to the game of jacks that many of our readers might be familiar with and is not limited to only the Christmas season, but played year round.  There’s a great description of the game and how it’s played here.

Pi detwal / Peta: These are sparklers, or roman candles, that the children light at night-time in the backyard to watch as the bright lights dart across the darkness.  Pi detwal translates as “rain of stars”

Fanal: The word fanal comes from the French word for lantern, these intricately designed paper boxes are cut and decorated with tissue paper before being placed on porches and in windows to light the way on dark evenings and to bring joy to onlookers passing by.

Kremas: This rich drink is like a Haitian version of eggnog.  Kremas is made with Haitian rum, coconut milk, ground nutmeg, evaporated and condensed milk, and vanilla extract.  No wonder our friends were going on and on about it!

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