If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to spend the Christmas season in a tropical setting, you’re in luck. Belize is the ideal place to spend the holidays. While there are many cultures and faiths represented in the country, a majority of people belong to Catholicism or one of the other western Christian traditions. This means you can go anywhere in the country and find celebrations that begin with Advent and last through the Epiphany.
As one of the primary destinations for tourists, Ambergris Caye is the perfect place to focus your celebrating. From time to time, feel free to venture into other parts of Belize. Even in the villages, you’ll find celebrations that truly make the season a joyous one.
How Locals Prepare for the Season
While there are things to do throughout the long holiday season, it’s a good idea to get things like banking, and anything government related out of the way early on. That’s because many institutions shut down beginning the week before Christmas. Many that do remain open are connected to tourism in some way.
With a combination of so many different cultures, it’s no wonder that you’ll find plenty of variety throughout the country. Even so, there are a few traditions that have become ingrained in residents throughout the nation.
One that you may find interesting is the care taken to decorate the home. While some people do decorate the exteriors, inside the home is where the focus happens to be. The Christmas season is a time to bring out all of the Christmas finery and decorate all or at least most of the rooms. You’ll find green, gold, red, and other traditional colors mixed in with elements designed to make the home feel and look fresh.
In Belize, decorating is more than just putting up a tree. Many residents make updates to the interior. Homeowners may paint walls, replace tile, and even take down old window treatments in favor of Christmas-themed options. All these efforts track back to the concept of hospitality. It’s not just about inviting loved ones into the home for a joyous occasion. It’s also about inviting the Christmas Spirit to dwell in the home for the duration of the holiday season.
Food is just as much a part of the celebration tradition in Belize as any other country. You’ll find that the residents bring along favorites from their family heritages and augment them with some dishes that seem to be part of everyone’s celebration. While there’s plenty of sweets, meats, and desserts to enjoy throughout the season, roast pork, ham served with pickled onions, rice and beans, and potato salad are popular options. There’s also white relleno, which is a soup made using chickens stuffed with pork and raisins.
While you can find eggnog, there’s a local alternative you will want to try. Known as Rum Popo, made with eggs, evaporated and condensed milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract, and white rum, the beverage is usually served cold. Some say that once you try Rum Popo, there’s no going back to eggnog.
Enjoy the San Pedro Town Christmas Boat Parade
Ambergris Caye is one of the most popular destinations for visitors. Choosing to go there during the Christmas season ensures you have plenty to see and do. One of the first events that you want to attend is the Christmas Boat Parade.
The Parade showcases floats and processions designed by schools, businesses, and civic groups. Every group of participants develops themes that have something to do with Christmas and decorate their boats accordingly. Some of them are fun while others are more faith-based. All of them are designed to inspire, awe, and bring the Christmas Spirit to everyone who attends.
The parade begins on the north side of town, typically at the Boca del Rio Park. From there, the procession moves along the San Pedro Town coastline for several miles, ultimately making a turn at the Caribbean Villas and moving back in the direction of the town square. At the square, judges hand out awards for various categories as the crowd looks on. The celebration continues with music, dancing, and food.
Delight in the Lights
On Ambergris Caye, the lighting of the Christmas is a much-anticipated event. The San Pedro Town tree is set up in the town square where there’s plenty of room for everyone to gather. Once the lights are on, the season is officially considered launched. There will be bands playing Christmas music, students performing traditional dances, and a fireworks display to round out the event.
If you happen to be in Belize City, a similar event takes place at the Battlefield Park or at Mule Park. Traditionally, the mayor oversees the Christmas tree lighting. Music and dancing, skits by school children, and other fun activities contribute to the festivities. In many cities, villages, and towns, the lighting of a community Christmas tree is viewed as officially starting the season.
Shop at the Holiday Market At The Truck Stop
What’s Christmas without a little shopping? On Ambergris Caye, big box stores are in short supply. What you do have is wonderful selections offered by local shopkeepers.
The Truck Stop is the way to go. Enjoy visiting each of the booths and check out what they have to offer. You can pick up all sorts of good things to eat, crafts of all types, and even some new decorations if you like. The kids (and the adults too!) can have photos taken with Santa.
Remember that The Truck Stop also boasts all sorts of eateries and even a beer garden. You’ll find movie nights, at least one trivia night each week, and other things to do. Stick around for the sunset; it’s considered one of the most beautiful in the country.
Celebrate at the La Posadas Festival
La Posadas is a nine-day festival that’s celebrated in a number of places around Belize. Beginning on December 16, the festival is an eclectic combination of food, dancing, songs, and prayers. Designed to delight and touch the soul, Benque Viejo del Carmen, Cayo is considered the place to be on the 16th.
The festival begins at the Church and involves transporting the Santos through the streets. Typically, the Santos are statues representing Mary and Joseph, although they may include various other saints. Candles, fire displays, and marimba music accompany the Santos along the way.
La Posadas serves as a reminder of Mary and Joseph’s journey from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem, including the difficulty of finding lodging. The procession ends at a home with a locked door. Once the door is opened and the Santos are received, prayers take place.
Refreshments round out the evening, and the host family is allowed to keep the Santos for the night. The procession will repeat the next day, with the Santos once again being kept by a host family during each successive night.
Garifuna Jankunu Dance
Special celebrations on Christmas Day are common. The Garifuna Jankunu Dance is a prime example. Based in Dangriga, the dance takes place in the afternoon. Those who are performing in the dance wear white clothing that’s adorned with pink masks and belts made using shells.
The masks represent the European slave masters while the shells tied around the waist and knees are sometimes interpreted to refer to the chains worn by slaves. Since Christmas was the only time that slave families were free to come together and make fun of their masters, the dance commemorates that brief freedom.
Come Bram With Everyone!
Bram is a firmly established Christmas celebration that originated in what’s known as the old Belize City. Steeped in Kriol culture, the Bram is a combination of singing while walking through the streets. Brukdong music plays along with the singing. You can expect to see dancing right along with the singing and the music.
The purpose of Bram is to spread as much holiday cheer as possible. Everyone is welcome to join in as they see fit. Expect the crowd to stop at homes and wish people good cheer and blessings for the upcoming year.
Midnight Mass and Boxing Day
Catholicism remains the most common faith in the nation. Many choose to attend Midnight Mass to welcome the Christ child and begin Christmas Day. The day itself is devoted to time spent with loved ones, carrying out religious duties, and coming together with others to celebrate.
Boxing Day, sometimes referred to at Saint Stephen’s Day, is a tradition that dates back to the days when Belize was under British rule. Considered a national holiday, it’s a time to give to those who are less fortunate. This is done either by charitable donations or offering gifts that people can use for the upcoming year.
These are only some of the many things to enjoy in Belize during the Christmas season. Come spend the holidays here. You may decide that you want to make it an annual tradition.