Christmas is certainly the most awaited holiday of the year. It is also the most family celebration, even the most “collective”. It is the celebration of the family, of the children and sometimes even of a whole neighborhood. While it must be recognized that traditions are less followed today than before, the fact remains that celebrating Christmas in Martinique is like nowhere else in the world.
Christmas is songs, choirs with family or friends, neighbors, even strangers. Previously, the traditional "chanté-nwels" (Christmas carols) started on Advent (December 1), things have changed a lot today. Indeed, from the day after the Feast of the Dead on November 2, Christmas occupies all minds.
Christmas carols singing the birth of Christ and the coming of the Three Kings are sung in chorus in towns and countryside. This tradition dates back to the period of slavery. Under sounds such as the ti-bwa (traditional Martinican musical instrument made up of a bamboo placed on trestles on which we strike with two sticks), the cha-cha (maracas made from a calabash that we have emptied and filled with seeds), drum or harmonica, families and neighbors gathered with their hymn books in hand to sing to the glory of the baby Jesus.
Obviously this collective moment wants to be joyful, we forget all our daily worries and we celebrate. As is the case with all other religious holidays, Christmas is accompanied by a rich gastronomy. If before the dishes eaten at Christmas were very local, today foie gras is mixed with local flavors. Among the drinks consumed at Christmas, there is the shrubb and the sorrel syrup. From the end of November, the rum was macerated with the orange peels preserved and put to dry to prepare the shrubb. Currant syrup was also prepared.
When it comes to food, Christmas is the most dreaded holiday for pigs on the island. Fattened throughout the year in their park, they were killed among families, friends and neighbors. Today, families no longer kill the pig themselves, they buy it directly from the various butcheries on the island. Then the pig meat is separated between the different participants and will be served again in different forms during the traditional “chanté-nwels”. Thus we will find the pork in the Creole blood sausage, the supply for the pâtés (photo opposite), the spicy stew served during the meal on December 25 and of course the smoked ham. Added to this, pigeon peas are picked or bought for the Christmas dinner.
Around all the folklore, Christmas obviously remains the celebration of the kids. Parents flock to the island's stores to give their children gifts. Proof that things have changed, today the tablet is the number 1 gift that children will receive at Christmas while before it was parents who designed or bought small wooden horses or trucks as gifts for their children. The gifts are wrapped and placed under the tree. They will only be open on December 25 in the morning.
Santa Claus is also present. On his trip from Finland, he stops in Martinique to reward children who are good or who will have had good grades during the school year. On December 28, these toys will be blessed by the priests during the Feast of the Innocents. Formerly, the filao was used as a tree used as a local Christmas tree, today parents prefer to buy the firs sold in shops because they are less dirty. Indeed, the filao is a tree that easily throws its “leaves”. The houses are decorated, the streets are illuminated. The general Christmas mood is excellent because family festive moments are very important for Martinicans.
When the evening of the 24th comes, once dressed and undermined for the feast, believers go to midnight mass, generally this mass is not offered at midnight but at nightfall. Then they join their family for the start of the festivities. Christmas Eve generally brings together large families, namely grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins and cousins. Christmas carols are sung for the last time and food abounds on the tables set up as a buffet.
Alcohol is flowing freely. Besides rum, the shrubb also called Christmas alcohol, champagne made a remarkable appearance in the early 90s. It has also become the most consumed drink (after water!) during the end of year celebrations. Martinique is also the French department that consumes the most of champagne. Almost 2 million bottles are sold each year!
On the buffets we find Creole red or white blood sausage, savory pâtés, slices of Christmas ham to which is added the more “French” traditional foie gras. After these moments of family fun, everyone returns to their home to rest and the children's gifts will be opened the next day.
At noon, the traditional meal is prepared: pigeon peas, pork stew, local vegetables (breadfruit, plantains, green plantains bananas, yams, dasheens). Once your stomach is full, special moments between parents and children occupy the rest of the day, sometimes around board games or watching TV and Christmas movies broadcast in large numbers during this period.
As soon as night falls, it is already time to prepare for the next day when the daily routine resumes if the day is working. Christmas is coming to an end, the joy and good humor continue while waiting eight days later for the second Eve of the year, that of New Year's Eve...
Merry Christmas to everyone!