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A Traditional Cayman Christmas

Since Christmas is celebrated in a variety of ways across the globe, it’s no surprise that Cayman has its own unique holiday traditions––some old, some new, but all filled with sun, fun, and festive cheer.

Here are just a few past and present Christmas customs that make Cayman so appealing during the holiday season.

No Snow? No Problem––Traditionally, Caymanians could always guarantee themselves a white Christmas thanks to the ‘sand backing’ of their front yards. Cayman’s powdery white sand is perfect for recreating the dream of a proverbial snowy Christmas, and, in many cases, children of yore would earn a little extra spending money by collecting or ‘backing’ sand in homemade thatch baskets or paint cans. These would be carried back to neighbourhood yards in order to build small ‘snow’ piles, which could then be spread out on Christmas Eve or early Christmas morning. Sometimes the little local elves even decorated the sand using a handmade rosemary broom, and quite often bright pink conch shells were neatly arranged around the houses as well, just for good measure. Children would likewise grab fragments of broken plates to make ‘Moonshine Babies’, which, when bathed in moonlight, would shimmer and light up like a Christmas tree.

Dazzling Decorations––Caymanians are still very proud of their Christmas gardens, but nowadays snow-white sand is often replaced with impressive lighting displays that sparkle across our front lawns throughout the holiday season. Even the roundabouts in Grand Cayman, sponsored by various local businesses, are a sight to see when decorated in their holiday finest. (In fact, driving around to view the Christmas lights has become yet another December tradition in Cayman. If you don’t have a car, the National Trust offers several Christmas bus tours so you can view the holiday lights in person.)

Take note, though: There is a private home that tops our list of ‘must-sees’ each and every Christmastime. The grounds of the Crighton Home on Shamrock Road are positively filled to the brim with lighted Christmas scenes that manage to achieve their very own brand of holiday magic. Be sure not to miss them!

Caymanian Food––Food has always been a big part of Cayman Christmas celebrations, and local Christmas beef, pork, and heavy cakes can still be found at many a Cayman Christmas table.

In Cayman Christmases past, food preparation was a household affair: each member of the family was assigned their own task to help get the Christmas feast on the table. Prime pigs and cows were selected for roasting, while yam, cassava, and sweet potato were all harvested for other Christmas treats. Firewood was gathered for Christmas cooking (which was often performed outside, in a caboose, or in a slow-cook Dutch pot).

Shallots, bud peppers, and salt were usually rubbed into beef or pork for added flavouring, while the harvested root vegetables were frequently repurposed for Christmas delicacies like heavy cakes. If you’ve never tasted a Cayman heavy cake, take our word for it: it’s quite unique and quite delicious. These sweets are made from grated cassava, yam, sweet potato, or pumpkin combined with coconut milk, brown sugar, cinnamon, and grated nutmeg. (Even today, heavy cakes are quite a process––but we promise they’re well worth the wait!)

Christmas beverages also make up a substantial part of the Cayman holidays. Sorrell, for example, is a traditional Christmas drink made from a special species of hibiscus. The beverage has a deep, ruby-red colour with a tangy/acidic flavour that comes alive when mixed with holiday spices. Sorrell can be enjoyed as a cold drink on its own, but many adults have been known to add some rum for an even smoother taste! It also has some great health benefits, as it can help with blood pressure and can also provide a useful source of calcium, Vitamin C, and other minerals that feature clarifying antioxidants.

Church Services and Music––Christmas concerts and church services are also an important component of Cayman holiday festivities. Historically, all the pews in the churches across the islands would be filled on Christmas day, and everyone would be dressed in their Sunday best, ready to take in the carols and poem recitations often performed by the local children. These Christmas concerts would occasionally be accompanied by holiday parties, some of which involved dances (most notably, the quadrille), ostensibly so those who couldn’t sing could cut a rug instead.

These days, Christmas music can still be faithfully heard around Cayman, thanks in large part to the Church congregations and National Trust whose carolling trailer is a travelling holiday staple.

Christmas Trees––Though most people unfamiliar with Cayman might expect us to use palms for our all-important Christmas centrepieces, a traditional Cayman Christmas tree was more likely to be a weeping willow, a rosemary bush, or a casuarina. Tree cutting was a veritable event in Cayman historical times, with children searching for their ideal tree across several miles and then towing their final selections through the sand (to avoid damaged branches that could occur when trees were dragged along the road). Throw in a sand-filled can for a tree stand, as well as a few handmade ornaments (think seashells, stringed popcorn, handcrafted dolls, wildflowers, and the like), and you had the makings of an authentic Cayman Christmas. Those keen on showing off would sometimes spotlight their tree by placing some candles in their windows, which would illuminate the tree for any curious passersby.

Cayman is a wonderful place to live in or to visit, no matter the time of year. And yet a Cayman Christmas really does have that extra something special––offering everyone a true feeling of ‘CaymanKind’ in which friends and families can gather and enjoy the spirit of togetherness.

 

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