By its very name alone, Môle Saint-Nicolas would appear to have some ties with the most wonderful time of the year. Just how deep the ties go, though, might come as a surprise.
Indeed, the very first Caribbean Christmas was “celebrated” here!
This story, like many other regional “firsts,” dates all the way back to 1492. It was early-December. Columbus was bumbling about along the northern coast of present-day Haiti when, as fate would have it, one of his ships, the Santa Maria, sank.
Seeing an opportunity to establish a base of operations from which he could plunder Hispaniola’s supposed gold treasures, Columbus ordered his men to build a fortress here from wood and materials salvaged from the Santa Maria. The settlement was completed on December 25, 1492, making it the very first European settlement in the New World.
The founding date also inspired the town’s initial name – “La Navidad.”
When the French gained control of the western section of Hispaniola years later, they changed the name, ensuring, for some reason, that Christmas would always remain central to the town’s identity even if key elements of the season like peace, love, joy, and good will toward men, did not.
When Columbus returned during his second voyage, he found La Navidad in ruins, his men slaughtered by native Taínos who apparently didn’t enjoy being treated like subhumans by the Spanish newcomers.
So, what is there to discover in Môle Saint-Nicolas these days? Sadly, I don’t have any first-hand knowledge of the place, as it’s one of the few corners of Haiti I haven’t visited in recent years.
According to Barry Procter (Postcards from Haiti), though, Môle Saint-Nicolas is very much worth checking out if you’re into exploring history while spending time getting to know truly friendly and welcoming locals well off the beaten path.
Trace Barry’s travels to Môle Saint-Nicolas here.