Most of Haiti’s Christmas traditions are similar enough to those of the United States and other countries to be recognizable. Yet certainly Haitian Christmas celebrations have their own special characteristics and intriguing little details.
The Haitian population is solidly Christian, primarily Catholic, so Christmas is not only a time for fun and celebration, but is also treated as a serious religious occasion.
Throughout December, residences, stores, and public places in Haiti are decorated with festive lights, often traditional Christmas lanterns called “fanals” made by local craftsmen. Christmas songs are sung in French and Creole. Children play in the street with a metal stick called a “pluie d’étoile,” which is a form of fireworks that emits bright stars when lit. Christmas cards, often handmade, are exchanged.
A few days before Christmas itself, people set up their Christmas tree, called the “l’arbre de Noël,” which can be a whole tree brought down from the mountains, or often is a large pine branch. The trees are decorated with ornaments and lights. Some people put together a Nativity scene in front of the tree, with figurines for baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the wise men, and animals, complete with straw.
On Christmas Eve, family and friends gather to celebrate. A traditional drink for the occasion is anisette, which is a mild alcoholic beverage made from anise leaves soaked in rum and sweetened with sugar. Children of all ages are also allowed to partake of anisette.
Children place their cleaned shoes filled with straw under the Christmas tree or outside the front door, so that Papa Noël will replace the straw with presents in and around the shoes.
It is traditional to go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Often this is an open air mass.
Upon returning home, presents are put out for the children. Adults exchange presents as well, but the emphasis is on gifts for the children. People have a late night meal called “le réveillon de Noël.”
On Christmas day itself, the children get up to see what Papa Noël has brought them, and they play with their gifts and with homemade fireworks and noisemakers. People celebrate the whole day and into the night, feasting (if they can afford it) on turkey, ham, shrimp créole, pâté, rice with mushroom, rice and beans, fried plantains, coconut, wine, and anisette. A popular Christmas dessert is pineapple upside down cake.
It can take some time to recover from the feasting and the revelry, as Haitians like to have a good time on Christmas.
Lulu Basuil, “Caribbean Holiday Traditions.” Caribbean Property Magazine.
“Christmas Celebrations Throughout the Caribbean.” Myel Productions.
“Christmas in Haiti.” Christmas Carnivals.