Tuesday 2 Cents: Christel Coïta Discusses Martinique’s Chanté-Noël Christmas Traditions
Christmas in the Caribbean may be another in a long line of really bad Jimmy Buffett songs (sorry Parrotheads), but that shouldn’t stop uncommon travelers from seeking out authentic West Indian Holiday Season celebrations if you ever happen to be in the islands during December. Christianity is the region’s dominant religion, so Christmas is a big deal. In a few islands, Carnival Season is the only thing bigger, except back home in St.Croix where the two blessed celebrations are combined!
We’ll get into our Crucian traditions later. Today, we’re taking a look at Christmas in Martinique.
With its vibrant French-Creole heritage, Martinique offers a unique cultural experience at any time of year. During the Christmas Season, though, the island really shines. We caught up with my friend, Martinique-native and tourist board rep Christel Coïta recently to get a sense of what visitors can expect during the Holiday Season.
Describe Christmas in Martinique.
The Holidays are the most lively and joyous time of year in Martinique. The whole island comes alive with singing, special gatherings among family, friends and neighbors; it’s truly a feast for the senses.
Okay then, what about sight?
Martinique is The Isle of Flowers, so of course it’s always beautiful. But, at Christmastime, it’s even more so. Private homes, public buildings and squares; all are decorated with colorful Christmas lights and ornaments. Nature contributes as well as we have a special flower in Martinique called Le Fleuri Noël that blooms only at this time of year. It’s a small, but brilliant white flower that grows in large clusters. You see it everywhere during the Holidays, so I’m sure it makes some visitors from up north remember the snow they left behind.
How about taste?
Ahh, this is another area where Martinique is always the top! One of Martinique’s many nicknames is ‘The Culinary Capital of the Caribbean’. At Christmastime, we really prove it with a special menu just for this special time. Traditional favorites include a smoked caramelized ham, always marinated in advance for a couple days for that extra special flavor. Then there’s the warm petits pâtés, yams, boudin créole or blood sausage, and a spicy pork ragout with congo peas. Dessert is a Bûche de Noël, or Christmas log.
I’d have to say the food covers this as well. The wonderful aroma of all those delicacies of the Season being prepared always reminds me of the Christmas celebrations of my youth.
Sounds of the season?
The focal point of our holiday celebrations is caroling, a tradition we call Chanté-Noël. We sing the same traditional carols sung here, Europe and elsewhere, but in Martinique we do it in a distinctively creole way. For the three weeks before Christmas Day, Martinicans gather together to share food and sing carols all night long. This happens all over the island with friends, families and neighbors joining in Chanté-Noël accompanied by the beat of the drums, the pulse of the intoxicating Ti bwa and sometimes, old fashioned violins and accordions.
Just imagine the feel of the warm sand on Salines Beach as opposed to the icy cold snow. Which would you pick?
That’s a no-brainer for me. Any last comments?
Once you experience Christmas in Martinique, you may never want to celebrate the Holidays anywhere else. Gorgeous weather, fun celebrations, the best food and drinks – like Mr. Buffett says, Martinique has everything but snow!
If you’re in the New York area on December 11th, you can get a taste for Christmas in Martinique at the 2nd annual Chanté-Noël celebration at the French Institute Alliance Française in Midtown Manhattan. Authentic Martinican Holiday cuisine and caroling will all be part of the fun. They won’t have any of that warm Salines Beach sand on-hand, but you can enter to win two free roundtrip tickets to Martinique courtesy of American Airlines to check it out first-hand.