I am from Antigua and therefore I write to share my childhood memories of Christmas time in Antigua.
Like most Caribbean islands, Antigua's Christmas season is one of the most magical times of the year. By late November, all the radio stations begin playing Christmas music. (Antigua now has 8 radio stations). Schools and churches have annual Christmas bazaars where food and arts and crafts are sold. The city of St. John's is decorated in Christmas decorations and lights on stores and music blares out loud from some store fronts.
As a child, my family always had a north American balsam fir tree which was ordered by first Lakes New Market and later from Byrson's Supermarket. Today, Antiguans still utilize North American Christmas trees, but also have artifical trees as well as locally cut tropical fir trees. Most homes are decorated with lights and there is an annual best decorated house competition.
Many of the schools and church groups and Sunday schools also hold Christmas Pageants, Services and programs. One of the special memories that I hold which is still carried on today is one of the Antigua Girls High School's annual Carol Service which is held the first Tuesday of December. Musical Renditions of traditional carols, reciting of the Christmas story and reciting the poem "ALL Roads Lead to Bethlehem" is read by the head girl of the school. The grade school students of AGHS perform the Christmas Tableau with all the trappings; angels, Angel Gabriel, the shepherds, the star, wise men, Mary, Joseph and the Christ child.
Some groups hold Christmas parties for underprivileged children. Lions Club holds an annual Christmas party, with Santa, gift giving and food baskets.
On Christmas Eve, St. John's alive, buzzing as late as 11:00 PM where last minute shoppers enjoy the crowds and the younger generation "bus a lime" with their friends. Steel bands come out too and it is a warm and lively and happy time.
Christmas Eve Mass is a special celebration both at the St. John's Anglican Cathedral and the Catholic Church. The St. John's Anglican Cathedral Choir renders it's Alleluia Chorus to bring the service to a close.
On Christmas morning, those who did not attend church services the night before, will go to the early morning service and return home to continue cooking the meal that was started the day before. This is a day mostly spent with family, but extended family will visit with gifts, food and drinks.
The Christmas breakfast is usually any one of more of the following: souse, (pickled pork tails, snout, ears and tongue), bread, ham, eggs, avocado, blood pudding.
The Christmas day feast is usually any or all of the following: Roasted Turkey, Roast or Stewed Pork, Ham, Rice and peas, candied sweet potatoes, salads, fruit salads, and the favorite CHRISTMAS CAKE AND PUDDING. This rich, black cake prepared with soaked local and imported dried fruits in local Cavalier Rum, Brandy and wine is a tradition second to none.
Sorrel Christmas drink and ginger beer are two favorite local drinks along with sodas, but fine wines, brandy, rum punches and punch de cuba are also served.
The next day is Boxing day, a day of feting and more eating and drinking, this time, Antiguans like to roam from house to house, bringing gifts or food and eating and drinking with friends and extended family. On this day, two favorite local dishes are served, Goat Water (stew) and Pepperpot.
For the goat water, usually a goat is slaughtered and cooked in a stew, enough to feed the large numbers of visitors to the house all day.
Pepperpot is truly an Antiguan dish, originally made my the Arawaks who lived on the island before it was colonized and passed down through the years. Pepperpot is similar to African American greens, but made with spinach, pigeon peas, pumpkin, onions, scotch bonnet peppers, corned beef and ham hocks.
The old timers have attempted to bring back the old time Christmas before 1957's Annual Summer Carnival where Boxing Day was the day that fife bands and John Bulls or John Canoe came out. I remember as a child hearing the drums from the John Bull in the distance and was terrified knowing that he was coming. The tradition was the the John Bulls came through the streets of St. Johns, each on a different route, with a drummer, a whipper and a fife ( wind pipes) band behind him. The Whipper would whip the John Bull which will entice him to run kids off the street with his bull horns on his head. The only way to prevent that, was to throw him some money, then he would leave you alone.
On New Years Eve, most Antiguans attend watch night service. The expatriates, non-
New Years Day is usually a day for more feting, eating and drinking. Car racing and horse racing have been added to the days events, as well as steel band jump up in St. Johns.
Visit Antigua for Christmas and enjoy a warm Caribbean Christmas Celebrations.