For those of us who grew up in snow country, it seems odd to be walking around in T-shirts and flip flops on Christmas Day. But, having lived here on Ambergris Caye for seven years now, I’ve come to appreciate that Belize offers a unique collection of blended Christmas traditions. More than 70% of Belizeans are Christian, so the majority of residents celebrate the birth of Christ. However, the country is also home to more than 10 different ethnic groups. The result is the most multicultural holiday celebrations I can imagine.
First and foremost, Christmas in Belize is about spending quality time with family and friends. Government offices, banks, and most non-tourism-oriented businesses shut down for the week surrounding Christmas Day. Festivities and family time continue through Boxing Day (Dec. 26) at least, a throwback to Belize’s days as a British colony.
One important Christmas tradition, remembered throughout Belize, is to spiff up the interior of your home. This is a Belizean’s way of inviting the Christmas spirit. One Belizean friend told me not to judge a local’s home by the exterior this time of year. It’s what’s inside that counts come holiday time. She explained that everyone brings out their gold, red, and green curtains, tablecloths, etc.
And, in preparation for all the holiday visiting, Belizeans don’t just decorate the insides of their homes this time of year; they give them a facelift, too. They repaint the walls, hang new drapes, even replace the linoleum! This is the Belizean version of spring cleaning, and the entire family pitches in.
Many Belizeans put up Christmas trees, but typically the synthetic version. Those who can afford it decorate the outsides of their homes, too, with elaborate lights. Blow-up Santas, reindeer, lobsters, and manger scenes are especially popular. In San Pedro Town, where we live, the San Pedro Sun leads an annual tour to vote for the best-decorated house.
Local traditional foods like rice and beans, potato salad, white relleno (soup with pork-stuffed chicken and raisins), pebre (roast pork) or ham with pickled onions and jalapeños, and tamales are typically part of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day feasts. But these dishes are modified for the holidays to include unusual meats or fowl. Rumpopo is the Belizean version of eggnog.
Here in San Pedro Town, the Christmas season kicks off with the San Pedro Christmas Boat Parade. Local businesses, schools, and volunteers all contribute ideas, time, and energy. Each team decks out its boat with twinkling Christmas creations. Some are fun Caribbean take-offs on traditional Christmas themes. I’m always baffled, watching the boats from shore. How did they do that, I can’t help but wonder about the elaborate light displays floating by.
This year the Christmas Boat Parade started on the north side of town, at the Boca del Rio Park, then glided along the San Pedro Town coastline for several miles, turning at Caribbean Villas to head back to the town square. Hundreds of the island’s residents lined the shores to watch.
Back at the town square, a panel of judges named the best-decorated boats and other winners, and awarded prizes. Then the party continued, in the square, with food, drink, music, dancing, and local artists selling their wares.
Another Christmas tradition here on Isla Bonita is the pageants put on by local schools. These feature singing and storytelling and are great fun. We attended the pageant at the Island Academy. This private school accepts children through 8th grade, and, this year, they presented their own updated version of the Christmas story. We don’t have kids attending this school, but the pageant definitely helped to put us in the holiday spirit.
We always miss our family and friends this time of year, sure, but we have come to enjoy the Belizean celebrations and certainly appreciate that, here in this Caribbean outpost, the focus isn’t on shopping or gift-giving but on spending plenty of quality time with those you love.
Editor’s Note: Ann took photos of the San Pedro Christmas Boat Parade, the Island Academy Christmas Pageant, her neighbors’ houses lit up for the season, and the enormous Christmas tree erected in the San Pedro town square.
By all appearances, Christmas on Ambergris Caye is a delight.
Continue Reading: Health Insurance Options For Part-Time Living Overseas