Crucian Christmas Traditions
If you insist that Christmas is defined by a snowy landscape with Santa Claus, sled and reindeer, and warming yourself by a blazing fireplace, our tropical Christmas may disappoint you. Admittedly, local traditions have had to yield Santa a place in our tropical celebration of Christianity's major holiday. Tradition plays a large role in the Virgin Islands, and back in former days of slavery, Christmas and Easter were the only times the enslaved population were given time off. That called for celebration, which consisted of dressing up in costumes - masquerading - and making calls at other plantations, where dancing and merrymaking marked these gatherings. But with religious life playing a large role, churchgoing to celebrate the birth of Christ was and remains a major seasonal activity.
The official local Christmas Festival today extends for a whole month, from early December to a climax of the Three Kings Day parade at the end of the first week of January. But preparations for the celebrations and elaborate parade costumes begin months ahead. Similar to the late April Carnival in St. Thomas and to a lesser degree the St. John festivities around the 4th of July, a pattern of activities fills the calendar.
Since Frederiksted is the main venue of the festival, Christiansted is allowed a one-day mini-festival kick-off with a food fair and parade. Dates and venues are found on the website www.stxfestival.com
Starting with a prince and princess contest, later a competition for the queen title, a calypso monarch singing contest for adults as well as youngsters, a band competition and musical theme selection all draw crowds to their venues, and the festival village and amusement park with booths offering traditional food and drink, cultural performances and trinkets for sale continue for two weeks. A boat race, donkey races, and early morning tramp into town are other popular activities, but nothing equals the excitement of the parades at the end of the festivities - first the delightful children's parade, where steel pan orchestras from schools and churches and groups of majorette twirlers vie for being the favorite of the crowds along the route along King Street in Frederiksted, which because of its wide streets has become the venue of choice for the festival. The following day, the Three Kings Day adult parade is the grand finale, featuring over a hundred entries of troupes, floats, floupes and individual entries - an extravaganza to the beat of loud music, bodies swaying to the rhythm, fantastic costumes, pageantry and pulsating energy and merriment, supposedly starting before noon and always continuing until after dark, with large crowds lining the parade route, and vendors of food and drink interspersed. With the village closing the following day featuring fireworks at the Frederiksted pier, the Christmas festival, during which time no one in government offices is expected to accomplish anything, comes to an end.
Additional activities, not part of the official program but equally anticipated every year are the Boxing Day horse races at the track by the airport, and in Christiansted harbor the Boat Parade of handsome yachts decorated with brilliant lights and displays. It is truly a time of celebration for the entire family. And, as mentioned, Santa Claus appears for many occasions, starting with the delightful Christmas Spoken Here festivities at the St. George Village Botanical Garden, this year scheduled for December 4.
As you can see, the tropical Christmas may differ from your usual wintry activities, but along with the pleasant weather that will allow you to go swimming in the ocean during your stay, you will find much to appreciate about the Crucian Christmas and celebration of the end of another year, which we here call Old Year's Night. Merry Christmas and our best wishes for 2012!