Christmas in Haiti
Needless to say, there's no snow! Yet you will hear: "I’m dreaming of a white Christmas" playing in city supermarkets. Outside you will see huge round Santa’s perched on the corners of some buildings looking out of place, replacing the Haitian version of Papa Noël who has long white hair and beard and a long gown.
Still, the crèche is at the centre of the season and unites us all in all nations around the birth of our Savior.
One custom peculiar to Haiti is to have weddings on Christmas Day. Yes, weddings. It seems that, since Christmas is a time for visitors, especially family from "lot bo dlo" (across the water) and also a great feast, why not have it all happen at once!
In addition, New Year’s Day is close at hand and that day is really the big day. Haiti celebrates Independence Day on Jan. 1 so it is a national holiday of the greatest importance, commemorating the hard -won Revolution in 1802. It is also the Day of the Ancestors. So Christmas seems to build up to New Year's Day when everything explodes in celebration, including fireworks and lots of noise.
A feature of that day is soup joumeau (or joumo). It simmers all night in preparation for breakfast and it is eaten all during the day in quantity. The basic ingredient is a large gourd like a cross between a pumpkin and a squash. Meat pieces are added and vegetables of all sorts, making a delicious and healthful rich yellow soup. Apparently this soup was eaten by the white, wealthy slave owners so it was and is an important symbol of victory. The first meal I was served on entry to Haiti on Jan. 25, l989, was soup joumeau. I am proud to say that a few years later I introduced it at Hospice St. Joseph where it had never been made. I went without a full night's sleep to rise early and work with Masillon, a young Haitian man who lived with us there and was already up and stirring the soup. He instructed me what was to be added next according to cooking time.
Children are included in the celebrations for Christmas and New Year's in Haiti, but there isn't the "cult" of children and gift-giving that we have in the Canadian and American Christmas. There is more of the celebration of the whole family and all the generations. We Anglophones in Haiti, especially here in Port-au-Prince, have also developed a custom of our own: while Haitian families are getting together, we gather and relax and enjoy Christmas Day as we share Eucharist and our "collective'" Christmas food and drink and companionship.
By Mary Alban Bouchard CSJ in Haiti
Photo by Pat Boucher CSJ