Guide to Christmas in the Caribbean

By Robert Curley

Trinidad Parang

Like Christians all over the world, Caribbean residents regard Christmas as a joyful time of faith and put their own unique spin on the celebration of Christ’s birth in December. Given that there are more than 7,000 islands across the Caribbean Sea and a variety of destinations, you can spend the holiday anywhere from an elegant popular resort to an off the beaten path locale. And every island has its own way of celebrating Christmas through traditions, music, and special foods.

Crucian Christmas Festival in St. Croix

In late December the Festival Village Opening Night and Fireworks take place. Like traditional Caribbean carnivals, this event features J’ouvert (daybreak) parties, the crowning of a Queen and King, and calypso contests, among other fun activities. On December 14, 2019, folks will gather along the Christiansted boardwalk to enjoy the annual St. Croix Christmas Boat Parade ccompanied by music and fireworks.

National Carnival in St. Kitts

The St. Kitts National Carnival kicks off  on Boxing Day in many parts of the world with a traditional J’ouvert party. The event runs through New Year’s Day. The Kittsian carnival celebrates local folklore and traditions through song, dance, drama, and poetry, and like other Caribbean carnivals, there are street parties, performances, and musical competitions.

Parang Festival parade in Trinidad

Trinidad & Tobago, a nation of dual-islands between the Caribbean and the Atlantic, is one of the Caribbean’s most diverse areas. The annual Parang Festival celebrates the holiday season through song. At Christmas concerts and parties, especially in the eastern Trinidad towns of Paramin and Arima, costumed bands perform traditional folk songs in Spanish Creole, accompanied by instruments such as mandolin, cuatro, and box bass.

Have Fun at a Festival in Montserrat

Montserrat in the Lesser Antilles has a culture that’s a unique mix of Irish and African traditions, and the latter take precedence during the annual celebration known as Festival, which runs from mid-December to early January. Highlights of the Caribbean’s Emerald Isle’s annual carnival celebration include a Soca Monarch music competition, the “Night of Pan” party, the crowning of a pageant queen, calypso contest, and a street party and parade on January 1, New Year’s Day.

Explore Beautiful Decorations and Festivities in Barbados

You might be jumping in the ocean to cool off in December, but it’s still the holiday season in Barbados, so you might hear festive Christmas songs when you are out exploring. And the eastern Caribbean’s Barbados is decorated in a gorgeous way in honor of Christmas, including shops, homes, and hotels; Father Christmas makes appearances at several hotels. You’ll also find craft fairs, festivals, and huge feasts typically serving baked hams and Black Cake (also known as Great Cake), consisting of dried fruits, spices, and some rum and red wine.

Hear Indigenous Christmas Songs in Puerto Rico

During Christmas, the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico is full of life and celebrated beyond the month of December. Every day at dawn from December 15 to 24, churches hold masses featuring aguinaldos, a folk genre of Christmas music sung in many Latin American cultures like Puerto Rico. Keep an eye out for the Parranda (carolers) traveling around neighborhoods singing Afro-Indigenous Christmas aguinaldos. A Nochebuena typical dinner is served on Christmas eve consisting of lechón (roast pork), pasteles (patties), and arroz con gandules (rice and beans), and tembleque, like a coconut custard.

Celebrate Maskanoo in Turks and Caicos

If you are spending Christmas in the archipelago of Turks and Caicos, a British Overseas Territory, head to Grace Bay Beach for a different and scenic way to spend your holiday. This 12-mile-long Atlantic Ocean beach with coconut palms on the main island of Providenciales is often dubbed the most beautiful beach in the world. Each resort along Grace Bay Beach creates gorgeous Christmas displays. Stick around the day after Christmas when the Maskanoo parade rooted in African traditions begins: It’s a masquerade festival displaying bright costumes and masks, with rhythmic drum beats and traditional foods.