The holiday season in Belize is month-long and then some, with Christmas songs playing and Christmas trees going up right after Garifuna Settlement Day. So, if you’re wishing for a longer Christmas, then Belize is the perfect place to spend the holidays. The season is filled with merry-making, feasting, and traditions that enchant as you travel across the country. Here is a guide to help you appreciate the cultural traditions seen at this special time of the year.
There’s no holiday party like an Old-fashioned Creole Bram!
Bram: Once widely celebrated in Creole communities, Bram is held each year in the tiny peninsula village of Gales Point Manatee in the Belize District. Villagers wait all year for the chance to let loose going from house-to-house dancing and singing. Without realizing, your entire body becomes captivated by the brokdong music. Creole drums, a harmonica and even household items such as a fork and grater and a pint bottle are used to create the traditional sounds. At each house, there is always an abundance of holiday delicacies such as fruit cakes, local wines, and ham that is shared with merry-goers making it a truly festive occasion.
Move it like the Two-foot Cow and Jankunu Dancers
Jankunu and Charikanari: If you missed the Garifuna Settlement Day celebrations, the Christmas season offers a chance to experience this rich culture with the performance of the Jankunu and Charikanari. Garifuna music and dance go beyond performance, sharing stories, history and culture. Both dances poke fun at slave owners’ mannerisms and movements seen in the way the dancers move alongside the beat of the Garifuna drums. Jankunu dancers dress in white long sleeve shirts and black trousers wearing a handmade headdress and a mask. Accompanying this, the Charikanari (Two Foot Cow) is an entertaining performance where the male dancer dons a cow-shaped mask and an exaggerated rare end. On Christmas Day, dancers go throughout the town performing at various locations. Getting to see both dances at once is a real holiday treat.
Our Holiday Deer Tradition
Deer Dance: The Maya deer dance is a spectacle to behold and a once in a life time experience given that it is performed a few times a year in San Antonio Village and other Maya communities in the Toledo District. The colorful and historic dance infuses the rituals and customs of the living Maya. The deer dance demonstrates the harmonious relationship between people and the environment and dancers are elaborately dressed with masks representing both. The air is filled with the charm and sounds of the marimba, a traditional percussion musical instrument. If ever the opportunity is presented to see the dance in person, take our word for it – this is not to be missed!
If you’re not already filled to the brim, here are two other holiday festivities you won’t find in a travel guide.
The Reason for the Season
Las Posadas: Beginning on the 14th December, Las Posadas reenacts the biblical journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. The tradition is largely done in the catholic communities of Northern and Western Belize. For nine nights, a young man and woman devotedly carry statues of the holy couple as they visit different houses asking for posadas or “lodging”. They are accompanied by persons saying prays and singing hymns. Traditionally, lodging is refused twice and on the third attempt, the re-enactors are granted posadas. The host family of the third house receives the statues of Mary and Joseph and scrumptious treats such as maja blanca (rice porridge), conservas (fruit preserves) and horchata (rice drink) are enjoyed by all. Yum!
A Century-old Ball
Grand Ball: It’s hard to believe that dances such as the quadrille, waltz, and foxtrot are rooted in Belizean Christmas tradition. But, since the early 1900s this Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve gala event has been held in Dangriga Town. Dressing up for this elegant affair is half the fun! Women wear long tailor-made dresses shaped for dramatic twirling. The men are spiffy wearing a tuxedo or button-down shirt with formal trousers. The Grand Ball music is unlike anything heard in Belize with the sounds of the harmonica, guitar, and other percussion instruments that instantly transports you to a time long past. Christmas and New Year’s morning are ushered in as the night is danced away doing the Lancers, Spanish and English Quadrilles, Polka, Waltz, Bolero, Mazurka and Punta and other dances.
The Christmas season offers a unique glimpse into century-old traditions that still persist. Beyond the feasting and merry-making, they hold a special place and are a part of what makes the people and cultures of Belize unforgettable.
Photos courtesy the Institute for Social and Cultural Research of the National Institute of Culture and History (ISCR NICH).