As in other predominantly Christian parts of the world, the December holidays on the Bay Islands are an occasion to spend time with family and friends, exchange good cheer and reaffirm religious faith. But just as elsewhere, the islands add their unique spice and flavor to the season.
Norma Brooks has lived on Roatan all her 78 years and seen her share of Christmases and New Years. Miss Norma, as she is known locally, was born Norma Johnson in Flowers Bay and moved to her current home up the road in Job’s Bight, just south of Watering Place, when she married Rudolph Brooks in 1954 (Rudolph died 10 years ago). She said holiday traditions there hadn’t changed much over the years, except that before electricity came to the neighborhood not so long ago, there were no Christmas lights. People just put up trees and decorations.
For Miss Norma and many of her neighbors, holiday activities center around the nearby Baptist church. There are Christmas Eve programs with poems and plays based on Bible stories. People of all ages, but mostly teens, perform the plays, which are written by the pastor and his wife. Afterward there is a late night candlelight service.
On New Years Eve, she said, people dress up, mostly in black, and attend “Watch Night” services that start about 10 p.m. and run past midnight, to bring in the new year.
But apart from its religious significance as celebrating the birth of Christ, the Yuletide Season, which historians tell us originated in Europe as a pre-Christian mid-winter feast, is traditionally about food and parties. Miss Norma’s neighborhood is no exception.
“We prepare a lot of food … cakes, baked chicken, turkey, ham … We make rice cake, pumpkin cake … We dress the houses … We put up Christmas lights … Christmas trees …
“We also prepare a lot of drinks,” said Miss Norma. “We has a berry that we grows on trees that we use to make berry wine.”
People pick the berries in October, she said. They wash them, add cane sugar and let them sit about 10 days to “sweat.” The liquid is then drained off and either drunk straight or mixed with sugar and water. Many bottle it and serve it at Christmas parties.
“It’s very nice,” said Miss Norma. “The longer you leave it, the stronger it gets.” But she says it is not alcoholic, despite its name.
“I generally don’t make wine, but there’s a lot of people here that makes it.”
On Christmas Eve people have parties in their homes for friends and family, often extending into Christmas Day, said Norma. On Christmas Day families exchange gifts, visit relatives, then maybe go to town, visit resorts or visit the mall in French Harbour.