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Christmas In Belize And Kriol Traditions

Christmas In Belize: Play Some Brokdong And Dance A Bram

Being in a beautiful place during the Christmas season can make the experience even more exciting, enjoyable, and memorable. Right now, excitement is in the air in the northern coastal town of Corozal, Belize, where I live. Twinkling lights adorn homes and businesses alike… Stores display sparkling Christmas trees… Christmas carols and holiday music are played in every shop…

Christmas tree in Corozal Park

People are going to and fro as usual—especially on Fridays, when the whole country turns out to shop for fresh fruits and vegetables aplenty in the outdoor markets. But there’s a little more pep in their steps these days as they stretch their budgets to decorate their homes and get gifts for their loved ones.

As everywhere, businesses in Belize have high hopes for sales this month. However, if harvests are low, so will be sales. Most Belizeans don’t have credit cards, so they can’t spend what they don’t have. Hopefully, this year has seen a bountiful crop… but, if not, families still make the holidays happy and, even if they have nothing else, they share a special meal on Christmas Day.

With the help of local businesses and organizations, a number of children who otherwise likely would not, wake up Christmas morning to find gifts under their trees. For now, excitement and anticipation keep a sparkle in the eyes of youngsters.

More important than toys and exchanging gifts, the coming together of family and friends is priority in Belize. An even greater sense of community takes over the already-tight-knit population, so that everyone is cared for this time of year, especially senior citizens. Family and community are pillars of Belizean society, but more so than ever during the Christmas season.

Every year schools offer special activities for students, often featuring food, a piñata, gifts, and lots of merrymaking. Community groups often make donations to add to festivities. In addition to the usual, the Corozal Rotary Club tries to donate a needed item to a local school each year, bookshelves, for example.

Giant Christmas ornaments on display in Corozal

Because Belize is the home to so many religions, churches plan their own ways of celebrating the message and the meaning of Christmas. Congregants take part in their own services and join in community gatherings that are often held in town plazas and parks.

Corozal hosts a tree lighting ceremony every year. Not just any old tree lighting, this is a big deal. The tree that adorns Corozal’s central town park every December stands tall and stands out. Children play around it and on the huge colored ornament decorations nearby, and, on the first Saturday of the month, residents come from all around to see this great tree lit for the first time.

One important and unique Kriol Christmas tradition in Belize is called the bram. This is a dancing spree that everyone participates in, all across the country. For the bram, the population takes to the streets and parades from house to house singing, making music, and boogeying in honor of the season. (The Gales Point Manatee bram is reputed to be the best.)

Brokdong is the traditional Kriol music that accompanies the bram. It’s explained that brokdong can occur without the bram, but the bram cannot occur without brokdong. This Caribbean-style music can be made with two forks, a grater, a two-sided drum called a gombay, a banjo, a harmonica, an accordion, a quijada (the jawbone of a donkey), a shakka gourd (like a maraca)… or just about anything else that makes noise.

Brokdong lyrics are usually satirical and narrative, reciting histories and legends, and they are always in Kriol.

While brokdong is less popular with the youth these days, the over-40 crowd still loves to jam to this rhythmic, infectious music.

I visited Corozal Town recently with quite a list of things to do… and I had no idea the day would turn out to be so hot. Sweat pouring down my face, I thought about going home and returning another day. But, as I continued walking, headed in the direction of the Corozal Town Council building, I heard a favorite Christmas carol coming from the loudspeakers: “Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? In the lane, snow is glistening… a beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight, walking in a winter wonderland…”

“Are you serious?…” I couldn’t help but wonder to myself. “It’s 90 degrees!”

Then I began to laugh and let myself go with it. I started to sing along as I continued my walk and finished my errands.

Here I am, ready to celebrate what I’m sure will be a memorable Christmas in Belize—a wonderland, definitely… just without the winter.

Marie Peay
Belize Insider


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