"Christmas Traditions
in the Dominican Republic"

Recollections of Dominican Republic Christmas passed
by Esther Ramos

When I think about Christmas traditions in the Dominican Republic, my Motherland, the first image that comes into my memory is that of my Mum in the kitchen, preparing from very early in the morning, what would be our Christmas dinner.

The Christmas dinner was and still is, the core of all activities happening on the 24th December every year (yes, we do have Dominican Christmas dinner on the 24th December instead of the 25th!).

So when we are asked 'Do the Dominican Republic celebrate Christmas?' the answer is a resounding YES...and we start earlier than many others do!!

But well before the 24th of December arrives, you can already 'sense' the Christmas mood in the air, brought by the notes of traditional Dominican Christmas melodies, from the very beginning of the last month of the year.

You will find groups of 3-4 people singing and playing what we could call, the 'official' Dominican musical instruments (güira, drum and accordion) for playing our national Dominican Republic music, Merengue. These groups are called 'Pericos Ripiaos'(which has a rather strange 'literally' translated meaning of something like 'shredded parakeet!!) and this kind of Merengue is regarded as the 'real' one and is especially typical of the Dominican countryside area, more specifically from the glorious Dominican Republic mountain areas.

The sight and sound of these groups is just one of the Christmas traditions in the Dominican Republic that foretells of the days of celebration to come.

Christmas traditions in the Dominican Republic - 'Aguinaldos'

Here we need to mention one of the important Christmas traditions in the Dominican Republic, the 'Aguinaldos', kind of informal parties at home, where a group of people, singing traditional Christmas melodies like 'A las Arandelas', will get people to open the doors for them and invite them in for some typical Dominican Republic Christmas foods.

So 'carol singing' is also one of the Christmas traditions in the Dominican Republic, as elsewhere...but so much more pleasant to do when the day has been wonderfully sunny :-)

Some times they might have chosen a house, where they want to visit, but on their way there, the 'singers' will be stopping by all the homes on their path, where the families are expected to give them either 'jengibre' (a warming, home-made ginger beverage), a drink of rum or even a cup of coffee. If the families are having dinner at that time, they might also have a 'bocadita' (literally a little 'bite' or taste) of it.

But when they finally arrive to their destination (together with all the people who might have joined them on the way) is when the party really starts and they will stay playing, singing, dancing and eating well after midnight. And of course, all the neighbours are welcome too!

This is again one of the typical Christmas traditions in the Dominican Republic and something you can especially enjoy in the most popular quarter of any city, town or village where the sense of community can be very strong.

Christmas in the Dominican Republic is a lovely time, yet how Dominicans celebrate Christmas' eve, can vary a lot from family to family depending on how much a family can afford to spend.

It should be remembered that many families in the Dominican Republic are very poor, so their table of Dominican Republic Christmas foods may be sparse...but their spirits will be as 'high' as anyone's. Most essentially, It is 'a must' to be with your family.

Our family might have been thought of as 'middle class' (our Father having the profession of 'watch maker/repairer' and highly regarded locally for his talent), and although we were never 'rich, we were always lucky enough to have a very nice Christmas. Our parents, and my sister and brothers would all help to ensure there were decorations, and lots of typical Dominican food and drinks on hand throughout the period of the festivities.

Christmas traditions in the Dominican Republic - Decorations

Most Dominican families will try to have some traditional Christmas decorations. A very popular Dominican Republic Christmas decoration, especially among the not so wealthy families, would be a 'Charamico' (Charamico in the Dominican argot literally means a dry branch of tree), which is painted in a white color and decorated with lights, ribbons, glass balls, etc.

It is basically a Dominican recreation of a snowy tree in winter! (naturally, no such things has ever been seen in reality by many Dominicans*!!) This version of a Christmas tree is especially popular because for one it is very 'economical' (everyone can afford a dry branch of a tree :-D!) Of course, you will also find 'green' Christmas trees, but they are mainly the artificial ones.

Under the tree, it is one of the Christmas traditions in the Dominican Republic to have a 'Nacimiento', which is the representation of the birth of Jesus, surrounded by Virgin Mary, Joseph, the Three Wise Men and, of course, all the animal from the stable - in other words a typical 'nativity scene'!


Another Dominican Republic Christmas decoration you often see is the 'Flor de Pascua' (which many Europeans know as Poinsettia) and which is also named more aptly for this season as



'Estrella de Navidad'

- which is literally 'the Star of the Birth (of Christ)', and it is found growing in many people's gardens, where it can reach up to 2 meters in height or more - rather more substantial than the little ones we have seen in pots at Christmastime in Europe!


Other Dominican Republic Christmas traditions at the End of the Year...

Angelitos (Little Angels), is the term used for the Dominican Republic Christmas tradition of exchanging small presents between friends or work colleagues. The names of all people involved are written on small papers which are then put in a basket. Everyone will pick up one name and consequently become their 'little angel' responsible for 'secretly' buying them a present!.

The Dominican Christmas tradition of 'Angelitos' can start, for example, two weeks before Christmas, having as many exchanges per week as the group wants. People are not allowed to know who their angels are. All the fun is, precisely, to try to 'discover' who is your 'angel', without giving yourself away. People will try to give false clues about who's 'angel' they really are. On the final day for giving presents, people will give a nice present to their angels as well as revealing their 'real' identities and, of course, everyone has a nice party to celebrate it!

We Dominicans can also be very superstitious! For example one of the longest-standing Christmas traditions in the Dominican Republic is that we believe that at the end of the year you should 'clean out the old' and 'start the new year fresh and clean' to ensure good luck for the household - so we always scrub the whole house very well, from top to bottom. A sort of 'New Years' clean, rather than a 'Spring Clean' which is more common in the UK.

At Christmas in the Dominican Republic you should also take away all your old things, especially old brooms! If you do not put them away, you should put them at a corner of your house. Drawers should all be cleaned out as well, and if you can afford it, you should replace 'old clothes' with new ones!!! (Well, it's one excuse for a shopping spree, isn't it, girls?) We also like to give our houses a fresh coat of paint at the end of the year. This means that if you visit the Dominican Republic just after Christmas many homes will be looking very fresh and brightly painted!

Yet another tradition we have at Christmas in the Dominican Republic is to burn some incense for purifying our homes, and some people might also throw 'holy water' around their homes that has been previously blessed by the local priest.

The idea behind all these little rituals and Christmas traditions in the Dominican Republic is to bring good luck and good fortune to the household in the year ahead.

But we know that many of you will be interested in Christmas traditions in the Dominican Republic that relate to food. There are many special dishes that are prepared at this time of year so we are creating special pages all about Dominican Republic Christmas Foods, that we hope you will visit and find interesting - here is the first Dominican Republic Christmas food page.

Why not let us know about any recipes that you would like us to include as we develop this section in the coming months.

Esther
(NOTE: * We note that not many Dominicans have truly seen a 'snowy tree' -- at least until winter in early 2007 when temperatures dropped so low in Constanza, high on Pico Duarte, that the forests were glazed with thick ice! It was amazing and a 'first in living memory' for my eldest brother Isaac! So now Charamicos are no longer just a thing of imagination for some!! See the photographic proof of Dominican Christmas weather right here!)



Merry Christmas in the Dominican Republic
For more Christmas Information
please take a look at our friends
Best Festive Christmas website.
This seasonal site includes lots of
Christmas articles, news and links
plus ideas for thoughtful gifts.



*****



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