ENJOY VIRGIN ISLANDS HOLIDAY TRADITIONS
Once again, the holiday season is just around the corner and people all over the world are preparing themselves for the festivities ahead. Holiday traditions speak volumes about the communities that celebrate them and the values they hold. If you’re planning to enjoy your holiday season this year in the US Virgin Islands, read on to learn more about some of the common holiday traditions you’re bound to enjoy while there.
In the US Virgin Islands, a group of residents sings carols to welcome the season of guavaberry rum. This local libation is created by families with the help of recipes passed down from one generation to another. Guavaberry rum, just as the name suggests, is derived mainly from guavaberries, which are bright-red blueberry-sized berries that grow predominantly on the mountainous sides of the Virgin Islands.
The berries are mashed and then mixed with citrus peel, rum, spices, flavorsome essences, and a small amount of rum from the preceding year’s batch. After this process, the berries are left to ferment for a few weeks.
Traditionally, locals would invite the carolers for some guavaberry rum, sliced ham, and sweet bread to strengthen them before they got back on the streets to resume their singing.
Every family in the US Virgin Islands, whether rich or poor, recognizes the value of ham during Christmas time. Traditionally, even the poorest of households were expected to have a piece of bone-in ham during this period.
It could have been purchased using pennies saved all year long or received as a gift from a shopkeeper, employer, or compassionate neighbor. Some decades back, shopkeepers would hand out hams to their loyal customers to thank them for their patronage and loyalty throughout the year.
Island-style sweet bread is a cross between a dessert and rich bread. It’s often made using yeast dough, which may require the bakers to work long hours on mixing, proofing, kneading, and baking the pastry. Its sweet taste comes from a mixture of sugar and dried fruits, along with some spices. These spices typically include;
Some bakers may mix dried fruits such as currants, prunes, and raisins in a large bottle and soak them in rum or brandy for some time, which may even be months, before adding the combination to the batter. A signature dressing that may include whole pieces of dried fruits, or candied green and red cherries may also be placed on top of the dough to provide a unique design.
Currently, Virgin Islands residents usually line up outside refrigerated trucks to buy Christmas pines coming from the US mainland. A while back, the locals would instead set out to search for an inkberry tree or the dried stalk of an agave or century plant that had flowered several months before.
Although both plants naturally occur in the wild, the inkberry plant predominantly grows in the islands’ forest while agaves are commonly found in the arid eastern side of the islands.
After collecting the trees or stalks, locals would prop them in rock-filled containers, thereafter decorating them with bits of fabric, crepe paper, or small pieces of candy. For an added festive flair, some people would spray paint the century plant stalks gold or silver.
In the recent past, churches and neighborhoods throughout the US Virgin Islands would form choirs that would start singing Christmas carols right after midnight on Christmas Eve. The carolers would be accompanied by scratch bands carrying wide-ranging instruments, including;
- Dried gourds
- Small drums
The songs they sang were an assortment of folk tunes and hymns, which were often passed down through generations. If you happen to be around Emancipation Gardens on the morning of Christmas Day today, you’ll hear popular carols such as Jingle Bells, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and Rudolph.
What’s more, choirs throughout the US Virgin Islands also compete in the Challenge of the Carols. The fun part of it all is that you don’t need to have any hats, mittens, or scarves to enjoy this long-standing Christmas morning tradition. Below’s an important fact you should know about the Challenge of the Carols.
About the Challenge of the Christmas Carols
Essentially, it was an old-time tradition that involved youngsters throughout St. Thomas going to bed early on Christmas Eve and waking up early to go out caroling.
During this time, they would go from house to house where homeowners would welcome them with sweet bread, guavaberry rum, ham, and sometimes, dumb bread.
Traditionally, each neighborhood had a choir, but they eventually faded out during the war years and the late 1930s. Luckily, a few groups worked to revive this legacy in the mid-seventies. Now, choirs from schools, churches, and other institutions within the US Virgin Islands often meet on Christmas mornings to usher in the holiday with two to three hours of soothing island-style holiday music.
If you’ve decided to enjoy your Christmas holiday this year at the US Virgin Islands, feel free to rent a boat with Sonic Charters.