Belize Navidad! A Recap Of The 2017 Christmas Season In Belize
Cozy, flannel footsie pajamas…
Warm hot chocolate overflowing with mini marshmallows…
And if we were lucky, a snowfall by morning that meant school would be cancelled…
Growing up in the Northeast meant chilly, bitter winters and exercise in the form of helping Dad shovel the long, hilly driveway.
Now, would you trade those crisp December mornings for low-80s, Caribbean weather?
Most people would.
But that wasn’t my motive when initially moving to Latin America. Today, Ambergris Caye, Belize, is home. Although the traditions are different than when I was growing up, the holiday spirit is felt more than ever.
Even with the various religions practiced and mixed cultures throughout Belize, the holiday season brings community members together. Traditionally, the Christmas celebrations in San Pedro commence on the first Sunday of December with the tree lighting at Central Park.
Folks from all walks of life—locals, mainlanders, expats, and tourists—congregate in this festive part of town to welcome the holidays. This year, a few of Santa’s helpers made a guest appearance.
The Honorable Mayor Danny Guerrero and the Minister of Tourism, Manuel Heredia, kicked off the event with endearing words of welcome. Mayor Danny led the eager crowd in a countdown to light the tree.
At the flip of the switch, enthusiastic cheers and applause spread throughout the park. Moments after, the high school band started playing Christmas tunes. Continuing the show, elementary school students preformed dances to traditional holiday music (adorable video below), and colorful fireworks lit up the sky.
Although this event officially marked the beginning of the holiday season, throughout the preceding weeks, plastic pine trees were assembled in banks, hotels, and restaurants, fully adorned with sparkly garland and colorful ornaments. Tinsel wreaths were hung on doors, warmly greeting guests and customers. And the exteriors of residential and commercial buildings underwent makeovers with lights.
There are no large chains here, such as Target or Home Depot, to make holiday decor shopping an easy, one-stop experience, so creative makeshift decorations often replace the traditional ones. The Hol Chan Marine Reserve building decorated its roof with white lights and outlined deer… in addition to their marine-inspired Christmas tree—a large red coral…
Residents and short-term vacationers alike were encouraged to participate in the festivities occurring throughout the island. Below you’ll find some of the most popular holiday happenings that took place on Ambergris Caye. If you weren’t around during the holiday season to experience them, fear not… each of these events takes place annually.
Holiday Market At The Truck Stop
Local vendors from around Belize made their way to the Truck Stop for an afternoon craft fair, tree lighting, and photos with Santa. Located only one mile north of the bridge, this trendy food and beer garden attracts locals and visitors with movie nights, Thursday trivia, themed events, and incredible bayside sunsets.
LoveFM’s Annual Christmas Parade
LoveFM spread Christmas cheer to the people of San Pedro during an evening holiday parade. Brightly lit floats and participants in festive holiday costumes made their way through the streets of San Pedro, with bystanders catching candy and cheering on their friends and family. Riding in this parade is open to everyone, however prior registration is needed. Participants this year included everyone from locals who decorated their family vehicle (their golf cart) to the San Pedro Town Council, the Garifuna Council San Pedro Branch, and the Rotary and Rotaract Clubs.
Annual Boat Parade
The week following the LoveFM street spectacle, parade-goers took to the sea. Participating boats were decorated from top to bottom with holiday themes in mind. Bystanders cheered from the shoreline for their favorite boat, usually at one of the participating “Boat Parade Stops” while enjoying snacks or cold beverages.
The parade lasted a couple of hours and concluded with a panel of judges determining which boat was ornamented the best. Cash prizes were awarded for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place boats, giving the captains and crew, as well as local community organizations, a fair opportunity to bring home some loot.
With Catholicism prevalent in Belize, the tradition of Midnight Mass continues to be upheld, and this year was no exception.
Because Ambergris Caye is a prime tourist destination, most businesses in the tourism industry remain open. Banks and private companies tend to close.
Adopted from the British, Belize recognizes Boxing Day, historically known as St. Stephen’s Day, as a national holiday. This holiday is dedicated to giving back to the less fortunate through monetary donations or practical gifts.
All over Belize, the spirit of giving is on display throughout the holiday season (more below under Holiday Fundraisers), and Boxing Day is no exception.
Even after Christmas, the celebrations continued through to the New Year. Some of the most attended events included the New Year’s celebration at Crazy Canuck’s Beach Bar and the Pedro Town Council-sponsored party at Central Park.
Traditionally, decorations are taken down on the Día de los Reyes Magos (Day of the Wise Men), on Jan. 6. However, that is rarely the case, and decorations linger well into the beginning of February.
In addition to the fun and festive activities, a handful of community fundraisers were held to support those in need. This year, Rotaract implemented the Merry Box program, encouraging businesses and their customers to commit to filling at least one box of nonperishable items to donate to the San Pedro Food Bank & Colleen’s Kitchen, which serve hot meals twice a week to the needy families of San Pedro.
Additionally, Living Word Church hosted an enormous toy drive for the local tots. Through their toy distribution, which took place a few days before Christmas, they presented over 1,000 children, who otherwise may not have been visited by Santa, with brand-new toys.
Meaningful contributions and efforts like those described above really defined the meaning of the holidays. To see communities come together, no matter how little or how much they may’ve been able to give, speaks volumes about the caring and integrity of the people of Belize.
My Personal Belize Holiday Traditions…
Traditions tend to change as we get older and grow our own families, but even in balmy San Pedro, a couple of my own personal pastimes have remained. To relive my younger years in the Northeast, I cranked up the air conditioner, put on fuzzy pajamas, and enjoyed a warm cup of hot chocolate—Swiss Miss dark chocolate specifically, which can easily be found at the local grocery store for only BZ$5.25 (US$2.63).
Wherever in the world you may have celebrated this year, I hope you relived some of your holiday traditions but also made space for the new.