There are holiday things Belizeans would be willing to go without on Christmas Day- the turkey and ham dinner is not one of them. Some things can wait until the new year, like a new pot set, that nice carpet, a fresh coat of paint on the house, or the pretty curtains from “that one place that had them for cheap”. There are even gifts some of us would be willing to forego for the next birthday or special occasion like new electronics, a bigger television, a slightly expensive perfume, or that nice watch. However, no matter the household, if there is any splurging to be had, it will be had on the Christmas day dinner. Apart from the turkey and ham, the dinner is about eating to our heart’s delight and filling our bellies beyond their capacities. The idea is to eat until elders fall asleep on the sofa, young children slow down while playing with their new toys, and the ones who manage to stay awake wear off the food over jokes and silly conversation. The ham and turkey are prepared and paired differently in most households, but the dinner will be ready with rum cake, white cake, or black cake for those who keep with tradition. Why is that? When exactly did we all agree that ham and turkey are a must on Christmas?
One explanation may be that ham and turkey are both indicative of a feast. They are both a bit outside of the usual budget for a meal and the flavours are rich and the meat tender. Eating expensive meat on Christmas Day is part of what keeps that day separate, exclusive, and singular on the calendar. But it is more than that. Sharing a meal that is so specially prepared and so decidedly made no matter the expense ensures that everyone receives a bit of something special on that day. Even if the other gifts must wait, the Christmas dinner will ensure a bit of Christmas cheer. This is as true for Belizeans as it is for families all across the world. Belizeans are culturally diverse so the Christmas dinner and festivities may differ. In some Maya communities, the colourful Deer Dance tells a story that includes a maiden, a hunter, a jaguar, an old woman, soldiers, a couple of dogs, and six deer. Garifuna communities reserve special Jankunu performances for Christmas Day afternoon. Los Posadas is a nine-day deep tradition in Benque Viejo that involves prayers, music, song, dance, food, and procession. Some Kriol communities will still take to tapping pint bottles, pans, and graters for a proper Christmas Bram in our local version of Christmas carolling. However, no matter the community, there will be a Christmas feast that is sure to include food, friends, and family.
The Christmas season is intertwined with the tourism high season. While visitors will find and enjoy a traditional Christmas dinner, some things will be novel and nuanced. They may find Santa on a palm tree instead of a chimney, a Christmas boat parade instead of big floats, Christmas elves may be wearing shorts instead of scarves, the only place ice will be found is in a cup and not on the ground, and the only real warm clothing required are Scuba dive suits. Foreigners will find Christmas in Belize very familiar and very different in the same breath. But, overall they will find Christmas in Belize because Belizean’s Christmas feast is the essence of the Belizean Christmas.
Over our ham and turkey, we laugh, we share, we give, we take, and we allow ourselves to splurge a little more than usual. We fill our homes with the smell of gravy and cake and feast unabashedly. There is no buyers-remorse on Christmas. The only sad thing about it is that we have to wait an entire year to do it.
Merry Christmas and chat again soon.