I love Christmas! I definitely think it is the most magical time of the year. The Christmas season is a special season for most Haitians even if they do not have a lot of money or luxurious traditions like many people in other countries.
When I was a child growing up in Haiti, Christmas WAS the most wonderful time of the year, and also the busiest. Christmas decorations were up by October in most businesses and everyone in tap-taps were talking about “Nwèl”. Classical Haitian Christmas music from Haitian artists would blast through the radios in homes, markets and cars in Haiti. Then in December Christmas programs were posted all over the city of Port-au-Prince, people were in the streets trying to sell their goods and those trying to obtain what they needed for gifts; it was often a chaotic and crazy sight to me.
What I enjoyed the most about Christmas were the many Haitian traditions; decorating with fanals and Christmas lights, eating cake, drinking Kremas, going to midnight mass on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve and staying up all night on New Year’s Eve to help make the Pumpkin soup.
Decorating with Fanal is so much fun! Fanals are Haitian originals. Kids or adults usually spend months cutting paper boxes, gluing, and shaping the Fanals into whatever shape they want. Sometimes they make them in the shapes of animals, churches, or houses. The Fanals are lit up with candles or Christmas lights at night time. We usually had at least five of them on our porch.
(an example of Fanal)
In my family, my aunt would cook all kinds of food, but her specialty was homemade cake. Eating cake is a treat for everyone because so often that is the only time of the year when some people will eat cake. To go with the cake we would have Kremas. In the U.S., traditionally people drink eggnog during the Christmas season. Imagine having eggnog mixed with Haitian rum, but with a twist; Kremas is made with coconut milk, ground nutmeg, evaporated and condensed milk, as well as vanilla extract….a mouthwatering specialty!
People in Haiti make the best with what they have. Celebration with family and friends is highly valued, and going to church with the whole family is a tradition. Haitian people are very spiritual and take church seriously. Those who do not have a chance to make it to mass or a church service during the year make great effort to attend during the month of December. December 24th, Christmas Eve, is when most Haitians celebrate Christmas. Almost everyone goes to a Christmas Eve service to give homage to our Lord Jesus. The services usually start an hour or so before midnight. At midnight the traditional song “Minuit Chrétien” is sung by everyone in the assembly. People then go home sometime before 1 am.
The festivities continue until New Year’s Eve. I usually played with all the toys Santa brought for me … normally a doll! New Year’s Eve is a time to prepare for the end of the year. This usually included a trip to the market place with my cousins to purchase the ingredients for the pumpkin soup! Pumpkin soup is a very special tradition in Haiti, signifying our independence. I would usually eat the pumpkin soup after going to church for the last time to thank God for the year.
There is usually a lot of noise in the streets on New Year’s Eve as everyone is out happily celebrating with fireworks and loud music. People stay up all night and rest the next day after filling up with lots of Pumpkin soup. After spending almost two weeks of celebrating and getting very little sleep, most people in Haiti sleep all day New Years’ day. It truly is a wonderful time of year.
As I reflect on the memories I had as a child I also think about the children that I advocate for. Most of these children will grow up without the benefit of wonderful Christmas memories. Most will receive nothing but will work hard on Christmas to serve the families they live with. They will watch others receive gifts and watch as they eat the food that they prepared for the family while dealing with the reality that they are alone.
At Restavek Freedom, we have prepared small packages for each of our children that we will distribute to them soon. Hopefully it will bring a smile to their face and they will know that they are loved and that someone is thinking of them this holiday season.
We are grateful for all of the support we receive from people all around the world and for so many of you who contributed to the packages we will be delivering. It gives us so much encouragement. We are making a difference and we thank you for joining us in this cause to bring hope in the lives of these children.
I hope that your Christmas season will be filled with wonderful memories.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!
Djougine Saint-Hilaire, Special Projects Coordinator