Belize is known for its multicultural demographic and its diversity really shines through during the Christmas time. The Christmas season in Belize is typically celebrated during the entire month of December after the Christmas Tree Lighting which marks the opening of the season. During the weeks leading to Christmas, families normally flock to the city center (mainly Albert Street) to take advantage of all the Christmas deals for new Christmas trees, decorations, marley (linoleum) for the floor and curtains to prepare the house for Christmas Day.
While many Belizeans celebrate Christmas the American way of simply decorating a tree and waiting on Santa Claus with the kids, lots of other local traditions are still being kept alive. Here are some Christmas traditions in Belize that make celebrating here a unique experience.
The Christmas Bram is a celebration with roots in the Belize district specifically in old Belize City and the surrounding villages and it is native to the Belize Kriol culture. The Bram is similar to “caroling”, where people make their way through the streets singing and playing Brukdong music while dancing from house to house to spread the good cheer. Though not celebrated as much in present-day Belize City, villages like Gales Point Manatee partake in the Christmas Bram every year.
Garifuna Jankunu Dance
In Dangriga, Christmas afternoon is normally reserved for Wanaragua or Jankunu. The Jankunu dancers get dressed in white long sleeved shirts and pants with belts of shells tied around their knees and pink masks bearing European features. These costumes are made to imitate the slave masters. The dance became common during the Christmas time because it was the only time that the families had free to come together and make fun of their European slave masters. Now, days after Christmas, there is a Jankunu competition in Dangriga which is a competition between the senior Jankunu dancers of Southern Belize – namely Dangriga and Seine Bight.
Maya Deer Dance
This dance is popular in the Santa Cruz area and is performed by 24 dancers dressed in colorful costumes. These dancers include a jaguar, a joker, a man dressed as an old woman, a man dressed as a maiden, a hunter, 2 dogs, some soldiers and 6 deer. The Deer Dance tells the story of a maiden being kidnapped by the jaguar who is then pursued by the hunter. While this is happening, the two dogs will chase the deer as the joker makes fun of everyone.
Las Posadas is celebrated in Benque Viejo del Carmen, Cayo and begins on December 16th. This nine-day tradition involves prayers, music, songs, dances and food. The celebration begins when the Santos (saints – normally statues of Mary and Joseph) are taken from the Church through a procession of marimba music, candles and fire displays leading to a preselected home. When the procession reaches the home, they find the doors locked and through songs and music the participants reenact Mary’s and Joseph’s request for lodging while on their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Once the statues are welcomed inside the home, a novena (prayers) takes place. Every night after the novena, light refreshments are served then the statues are left with the host family for the night when the participants leave. The procession and novena takes place again the following days leading to Christmas Day.
One of the main elements that can make or break Christmas anywhere is the food and Belize is no exception. The treats are normally prepared days in advance so that delicious Belizean rum is potent in the fruit cakes and rum popo. Food preparations for Christmas day begin from Christmas Eve, and the grand meal consists of rice and beans, potato salad, turkey, breadcrumb stuffing, cranberry jelly with cherry and pineapple embellished ham. Mestizo’s usually celebrate Christmas with white relleno consisting of chicken with stuffed pork and mechado olives served with hot corn tortillas. Majority of Mayans celebrate with chicken tamales as their traditional meal.
Christmas Tree Lighting
The Christmas tree lighting has been an annual tradition in Belize City where everyone would gather at the Battlefield Park to witness the Mayor lighting the tall Christmas tree officially kicking off the Christmas season in Belize. Now, the occasion has moved to Mule Park.
With a large portion of the population belonging to the Christian faith, midnight mass is an integral part of the Belizean culture. Everyone puts on their finest outfit and heads out to their church to celebrate the birth of Jesus with joyful singing and prayers to bring in Christmas morning.
What other Christmas traditions does your family celebrate?