Five Unique Caribbean Christmas Traditions

From pre-dawn swims to all-night street parties, this is how Christmas is done in the Caribbean


Like much of the world, the Caribbean celebrates the Christmas holiday season with music, lights, food and gift giving. But islanders have also created a number of their own traditions, adding even more cheer to the end of the year. Here are five celebrations that are unique to the Caribbean.

A Different White Christmas

If you wake up on Christmas morning in Grand Cayman Island and see front yards covered in a blanket of white, you aren’t imagining things. Lacking snow, islanders created the tradition of the Sand Yard. Starting in late October, buckets of white beach sand are carried to homes, and deposited in piles in the front yard. On December 24th, piles are raked into even blankets of white, and are not to be stepped on until Christmas morning. The tradition has faded in urban areas, but may still be seen in traditional neighborhoods.

Pre-dawn Parties

For more than 100 years, residents of St. Vincent have started celebrating the Christmas season early. Literally. Starting at around 5 am on the 16th of the month, the Nine Mornings Celebration gets underway with parades, concerts, dances and group bike rides that end in ocean swims. Festivities wrap up around 7 o’clock and everyone heads off to work, ready to repeat the fun every morning through December 24. In many areas, the final morning’s celebration culminates with a steel band “jump up” party.

Christmas With a Bang

In the Dominican Republic the Christmas season kicks off in October, launching three months of parties, special meals and traditions such as Double Sueldo—an extra month’s pay to help fund the holidays. The biggest party of the season, Noche Buena, takes place on Christmas Eve, and in the weeks leading up to this gathering of friends and family, the skies come alive in impromptu barrages of fireworks. Known as fuegos artificiales, this tradition borders on a national obsession, and everyone gets in on the noisy fun.

Next Day Giving

The December 26 observance of Boxing Day began in England when employers and masters would reward their servants and employees with a seasonal gift box. The tradition continues on Caribbean islands with strong British heritages such as Barbados, where this post-Christmas holiday provides a chance to make the neighborhood rounds and drop off gifts to friends and relatives, then enjoy a picnic or beach outing.

Taking It to the Streets

In the early hours of December 26th, thousands of elaborately costumed dancers parade on the streets of downtown Nassau. The night comes alive with the rhythms of goatskin drums, cowbells, whistles and horns. Crowds of onlookers line sidewalks and the balconies of nearby buildings. The procession culminates with a pass by the judge’s stands for a chance with cash prizes and awards. Smaller versions of Junkanoo are staged on other islands, and the entire spectacle repeats on January 1.