Friday, November 2, 2007

Holidays in the Tropics!

This time of the year, I miss Dushi Korsow more than ever. Not that it is not a good time of the year here in Miami....it is just different. From Halloween to New Year's the island is on a party mood that is difficult to ignore. I mean, island wide, celebrating mood.

Come Halloween, even if it is not a local tradition, many people celebrate. From the American Women's Club children's party complete with trick or treat, to private costume parties, to celebrations at the different night spots, Curaçao starts the holiday season in style. I know, you are thinking it's an exaggeration, but it's not.

As in any part of the world where there is an American Women's Club, Halloween is celebrated with relish. It's one more way to keep in touch with traditions from home. These parties are well organized and so much fun. I remember making costumes for my children every year, baking cupcakes or making savory snacks for the parents. If you were coming to the States before the party, you were asked to bring candy or decorations. The committee will make sure that the houses around the party site were supplied with candy for our children to got trick or treating. This provided fun for our children and for the neighborhood... great public relations! Parents participate as well, even members without children attend the festivities.

We cannot forget the celebrations going on in the schools; not only the International School, but other private schools get into the spirit as do some local schools. This is a children's holiday, but adults also fall under the spell of the day. Many people hold private parties. If you have a birthday, anniversary or whatever reason to celebrate....why not have a costume party? For a people so involved in Carnival, another such party is a piece of cake.

Then there are the night spots around the island. Drinks are offered at special prices, snacks are free for customers and the places are decorated with all sorts of scary things: ghosts, spiderwebs, witches and brooms. Remember, everyone on the island sees no problem in going out for drinks during the week! Miss that too.....

As soon as Halloween is over, we get ready for Thanksgiving! Another American (and Canadian) tradition that has found a home in Curaçao. As I said, any reason for celebrating is a welcome thing in the Tropics! Once again, the American Women's Club holds the biggest party. Through the years, the members have organized this holiday as a club only affair or as a fundraiser involving the community. Either way, Thanksgiving has become part of island end of the year celebrations. Since it is not skipped by the merchants either, it gets more time than in the States where people are in such hurry to get to Christmas!

Now we are ready for Sinterklas. The Dutch St Nicholas is a big favorite of children and grown ups alike; the fact that he is a Christian saint doesn't seem to bother anyone. Everyone celebrates no matter their religion. I find this acceptance so refreshing! Anyway, some time by the middle of November, he appears on the island. His tall, stately figure can be seen standing on every sort of convertible vehicle available. He comes with his faithful helpers the Zwarte Pieten (literally Black Petes). For weeks until his actual birthday, December 6th, he can be seen everywhere. Each nigh children will put out water and grass for his horse, and the grateful saint will leave a small present in the child's shoe. On the night of the 5th, children get as many presents as their parents can afford, sort of like Christmas in other countries. My children loved it from the beginning.

Part of all this celebration is another very Dutch tradition: an exchange of chocolate letters. Just around the time that the saint appears on the island, supermarkets bring out these treats. You can get them in milk or dark chocolate flavors. Everyone gets them and they are exchanged as part of the celebrations of Sinterklas birthday. My husband and children looked forward to this every years. Even when my son and daughter went away to school in the States, I would buy the letters and mailed these treats to them! Never thought I was going to get sentimental about chocolate letters...

Once Sinterklas fades until next year, Christmas preparations start in earnest. Christmas in the Tropics is so much fun... and we shouldn't forget that the first Christmas was in the Middle East and not in the frigid lands of Europe or North America. Children don't get as many presents from Santa Claus, but they celebrate with gusto. The American Women's Club, again, goes all out to give the members and their children a grand party. The man playing Santa has been doing it for more than 50 years! It is part of the club's lore that he could fool his own children. I know my children never thought of accepting anyone else as Santa, and sat on his lap until they were teenagers! How is that for tradition?

The island dresses in Christmas decorations from colored lights to Nativity scenes, from Christmas trees to Santas. Everyone participate. There are whole neighborhoods that get together to decorate their homes; downtown Willemstad and the Queen Emma Bridge get decked in fairy lights. Big parties are organized. I don't mean private parties only, but huge affairs everyone wants to attend. Tickets are sold like hotcakes, well in advance. Anyone wanting to attend better be quick. These parties take place once the private parties and family reunions disperse after midnight. They last until well into Christmas Day. Then it's beach time!

Finally, before the year ends, New Year's Eve comes along. From about 12 o'clock everyone follows the pagaras. These are a Chinese tradition. Huge rolls of firecrackers packed into wooden crates are bought by business and by private citizens alike. The size depends on how much you are willing to spend. They are unrolled in front of the business or home and lit. The noise and smoke fill the air. People get as close to it as they dare, it is good luck. Food and drinks are offered to the guests and a good time is have by all. This continues until well into the late afternoon when we all go back home to rest.

The second part of the celebration is even better. You either go to a friend's home, or organize a party at your home. Either way, the ritual is the same. Everyone eats and drinks, and there are fireworks until midnight. At this time a canon shot from an old Dutch fort in the center of the city marks the arrival of the New Year. The island, literally, erupts into a frenzy of noise. The sky fills with beautiful multicolored lights, the air fills with smoke, everyone runs outside to receive the New Year in the open air. Champagne is served and we all drink to a prosperous and happy New Year. We continue to celebrate until the early hours....

The ones in the know, have purchased tickets for THE party. As in Christmas, this party has been planned for months, tickets are all sold out and after the last pagara everyone leaves for the party. Usually parents see their children go and then go home. Amazingly enough, we all sleep through the celebration. We figure that the children will be safe having been blessed by the gods with smoke and noise. Once the party is finished, the celebrants go to have breakfast at some restaurant or at someone's home. They then come home to change to hit the beach!

As I said, this is the time of the year when I really miss Curaçao. Celebrations already started. Halloween was a success again and everyone is planning Thanksgiving. There is not stopping now!

1 comment:

Rowland said...

HI MERCEDES,

I ENJOY YOUR BLOG ABOUT CURACAO VERY MUCH. ON MY LAST TRIP TO THE ISLAND, WE TRIED PINDA SAUCE (PEANUT SAUCE) WITH CHICKEN AND LOVED IT. WE TRIED TO GET THE RECIPE FROM OUR WAITRESS, AND ALTHOUGH SHE TRIED TO EXPLAIN, IT WAS COMPLICATED. SHE MENTIONED THAT THERE WAS SOMETHING THAT COULD BE BOUGHT IN THE SUPERMARKET TO START WITH. WE ENDED UP WITH THREE BOTTLES OF SOMETHING THAT LOOKS LIKE PEANUT BUTTER FROM THE OUTSIDE, AND HAS A STRONG SPICY TASTE THAT IS NOT EXACTLY WHAT WE TRIED. I GUESS WE HAVE TO ADD AND COOK IT WITH SOME OTHER INGREDIENTS TO GET THE REAL PINDA SAUCE. THE BOTTLE SAYS: SATESAUS, Geeft het leven Smaak, AND THE BRAND IS CALVE, BUT IT IS ALL IN DUTCH. DID WE BUY THE RIGHT THING ?. DO YOU HAVE THE RECIPE?

THANK YOU,

LOVE TO YOU AND ALL THE FAMILY.

ROWLAND

P.S. AS YOU KNOW WE WERE THERE BECAUSE OF THE ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATIONS AT THE MIKVE-EMMANUEL SYNAGOGUE, "THE OLDEST ONE IN CONTINOUS USE IN THE AMERICAS". IT WAS REALLY BEAUTIFUL. PLEASE TELL YOUR READERS ABOUT IT. I AM SURE THEY WILL LOVE TO HEAR THIS PART OF THE HISTORY OF CURACAO.