One Happy Island Holiday Spirit!

The holiday season on this island is a colorful hodgepodge of old and new traditions that all collide beginning late November and continue right into the New Year.

Holiday fare
There are many time-honored rituals that locals partake of such as serving the world’s most liquor-laden fruitcake called bolo pretu (black cake). A nod to the Latin American influence here is also present with the serving of holiday-time ayacas: plantain leaves surrounding cornmeal dough pockets filled with meats or fish, or seafood with capers, cashews, raisins, spices, and more. Other holiday foods include things like pumpkin soup, zult (spicy pickled pigs' ears), and though Aruban families do serve stuffed turkeys or chickens, the Christmas ham is also very big as a main dish. Dutch goodies also make the scene such as olliebollen, which can always be found at this time of year ready to go at local supermarkets like Ling & Sons. They are deliciously decadent deep-fried dough balls that are best enjoyed hot right out of the fryer! This is also the season for homemade ponche crema, though you can now buy it pre-bottled at many stores. Every household has its own traditional family recipe to make this potent rum-laden, rich Caribbean version of eggnog.
And of course, North Americans will not want for a taste of home as most restaurants and resorts will offer up some form of traditional turkey and stuffing Christmas dinner as well.

Gift giving galore!
Aruban children are very fortunate when it comes to receiving gifts at this time of year because they have three occasions to do so! The Dutch Sinterklaas arrives by boat to a grand parade in late November. Then, on the eve of his December 5th birthday, children leave their shoes outside and fill them with treats for his famous white horse such as hay, carrots, and sugar cubes. The next day they receive a gift and candies, chocolate and cookies in the shoes. On December 25, they also receive gifts under the tree, North American style, from Santa Claus. On January 6, the "Three Kings" or wise men, also leave them a little something to mark the Feast of Epiphany! Lucky kids!

Let there be lights!
There might not be snow, but there’s no lack of merriment, music, parties, fun and food, holiday spirit, and the twinkling lights that signify the holiday season that abounds everywhere, making Aruba’s tropical nights even more enchanting than usual. Arubans love to decorate their homes in lights, and now even the traffic circles or rotundas are decked to the max with holiday splendor. The government buildings always have a wonderful nativity scene out front, and all the resorts, restaurants, and shopping areas go to town with decorations. One special spot to visit is always Seroe Preto where students volunteer each year to set up a gorgeous display along a theme on the hill.

Old and new traditions
Some of the ancient rituals like sweeping, cleaning, and even painting the walls of the house to get rid of old negative energy, and tying three stalks of aloe together with red ribbon and hanging it above the door to welcome in the good spirits, are still practiced by older generations. But there are many new traditions carving a place into the annual island celebration, and the playing of Dande music is one of them.

Though “Gaita,” folkloric music from Venezuela, is the sound that really says holiday season here, Dande has always been the closest thing Aruba has had to North American caroling. It was a time when musicians would stroll from house to house wishing their neighbors good tidings for the New Year in song. But today, the Dande tradition has evolved into an actual festival that takes place between Christmas and New Year’s with concerts and a crowning of the “King and Queen” of Dande.

If you’re here during the holidays, you can’t help but run into the multitude of staff Christmas parties going on everywhere. After all, the focus of this island is on tourism, and that means a big part of employment centers around the service industry! Some resorts are creating new annual traditions. The  Ritz-Carlton, Aruba has begun building giant gingerbread sculptures in their lobby of Aruban symbols like the California Lighthouse, and the Aruba Marriott Resort with their beautiful Christmas Village all made out of sugar cubes in the lobby is also a must see!

So if you’re lucky enough to be on One Happy Island during the holiday season, there are two phrases you should learn: “Bon Pasco,” which means Merry Christmas in Papiamento, and “Bon Aña,” which means Happy New Year!  And we at Nights Publications wish you the best of both!

Happy holidays, and see you in 2016!

For New Year’s traditions on Aruba see our past blog: Aruba's Own "Big Bang Theory"