Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, however, in Haiti it is widely celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike as a holiday with non-religious aspects.
Some of the secular activities have become extremely popular in Haiti. In the beginning of December, it is a tradition that Haitians cut pine branches to serve as Christmas trees or go to the market and get freshly cut trees brought from the mountains. They decorate them with bright ornaments, and at the base add a large nativity scene, which could occupy a large part of their living room. This is also a practice used by institutions, organizations and churches as well. To make the decorations last longer, Haitians buy artificial Christmas trees with bright ornaments and decorate the front view of compounds with multicolored lights and animation.
On Christmas Eve, children place their shoes, nicely cleaned up and filled with straw, on the porch or under the Christmas tree. Tonton Nwèl (Santa Claus) is expected to remove the straw and put presents in and around the shoes.
Children are normally allowed to go out and often the parents don’t know were they are in the early morning – the older children are expected to look after the younger ones! And children of all ages are also allowed to drink ‘Anisette‘, which is a slightly alcoholic drink that’s made by soaking ‘anise’ leaves (the spice where star anise comes from) in rum and sweetening it with sugar.
All houses in the neighborhood are open with all lights on until about three o’clock in the morning. Some people go to midnight Mass. Others go out in the neighborhood in groups, caroling. After the Mass, people come home and eat the main meal called ‘Reveillon’ (it’s a French term meaning ‘to wake up’ and is what the main meal is also called in France). The meal normally starts in the early hours of christmas morning and lasts until the dawn! The occasion is, however, more a breakfast than a supper.
Christmas Day, December 25th, which is the official Christmas Day is usually much quieter with some people sleeping off the celebrations of the night before! There’s a lot of eating and drinking, singing and playing with the toys brought by Tonton Nwèl in the middle of the night. The children might also play with fireworks that they mostly made themselves from chemicals bought in stores.
Here is the definition and explanation about some of the holiday traditions, this is far from an exhaustive list and many of these traditions vary from place to place and family to family!
Reveyons: Usually following a midnight mass on December 24th, families and friends gather together to celebrate and share. These all night parties are known as Reveyon.
Wosle: This is a game that the children play while the adults enjoy the evening, it’s similar to the game of jacks that many of our readers might be familiar with and is not limited to only the Christmas season, but played year round. There’s a great description of the game and how it’s played here.
Pi detwal / Peta: These are sparklers, or roman candles, that the children light at night-time in the backyard to watch as the bright lights dart across the darkness. Pi detwal translates as “rain of stars”
Fanal: The word fanal comes from the French word for lantern, these intricately designed paper boxes are cut and decorated with tissue paper before being placed on porches and in windows to light the way on dark evenings and to bring joy to onlookers passing by.
Kremas: This rich drink is like a Haitian version of eggnog. Kremas is made with Haitian rum, coconut milk, ground nutmeg, evaporated and condensed milk, and vanilla extract. No wonder our friends were going on and on about it!
Wanda Tima of L’union Suite is currently in Haiti participating in many of the holiday give back festivities happening in Port-au-Prince, Delmas and more. She’s been posting most of the events on our social media accounts and will update the website soon.
Some Of The Haitian Dishes On A Holiday Menu
Fried pork or goat
Pikliz (spicy pickled carrots and cabbage)
Pain Patate (sweetened potato, fig, and banana pudding)
Pain Haïtien (Haitian Bread)
- 2 packages active dry yeast
- 1½ cups warm water
- ¼ cup honey
- 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 4 cups flour
- ¼ teaspoon instant coffee
- 2 Tablespoons milk
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Dissolve the yeast in a large bowl in warm water.
- Stir in honey, oil, salt, nutmeg, and 2 cups of the flour.
- Beat until very smooth, about 1 minute.
- Gradually add enough of the remaining flour to make a stiff dough.
- Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth, about 5 minutes.
- Place in a greased bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until about double in size, about 50 minutes. Punch down on dough.
- Press in greased jelly roll plan (about 15x10x1-inch).
- Cut dough into about 2½-inch squares with a sharp knife, cutting two-thirds of the way through the dough.
- Cover and let rise until double in size, about 30 minutes.
- Dissolve the instant coffee in the milk and brush over the dough.
- Bake until the bread is golden brown, about 35 minutes.
- Break the bread into squares to serve.
Makes 2 dozen squares.
- 1 can pineapple, crushed
- ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg, plus additional for topping
- ½ cup coconut milk
- 1 cup milk
- Combine all the ingredients in a blender and mix well.
- Top the drink with additional nutmeg.
Serves 4 to 6.
Ti-Malice (Spicy Haitian Sauce)
- 10 large tomatoes, peeled and quartered
- 3 white onions, quartered
- 4 red hot peppers (jalapeños work well), seeded
- 3 Tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 Tablespoon salt
- 2 cups malt vinegar
- Purée the tomatoes, onions, and peppers in a food processor.
- Transfer to a large saucepan and add the brown sugar, salt, and malt vinegar.
- Stir well to combine.
- Cook the sauce over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it begins to boil.
- Lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, continuing to stir occasionally.
- Serve with any Haitian rice or meat dish.
- 6 cups water
- 1 teaspoon salt (optional)
- 2 cups cornmeal
- 2 Tablespoons butter, margarine, canola oil, or olive oil
- Bring water to boil in a large pot. Add the salt, if desired.
- Gradually stir in cornmeal with a whisk. Turn heat down to medium.
- Stir briskly to get the lumps out, then cook for another 10 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently (add water if it becomes too thick).
- Remove from heat and stir in butter or oil.
- Serve immediately or pour into a square pan.
- Let cool and cut into squares.
Serves 4 to 6.
- 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 Tablespoon flour
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- 1 can creamed corn
- 2 eggs, beaten
- ½ cup milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 3 Tablespoons butter, melted
- Preheat oven to 325°F.
- Combine cornstarch, flour, sugar, and salt in a saucepan.
- Stir in creamed corn and beaten eggs.
- Add the milk, vanilla and butter.
- Mix well and pour into a shallow casserole dish and bake for about 1 hour.
Serves 2 to 4.
Bannann Peze (Fried Plantains)
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 2 medium-sized green plantains, peeled and sliced
- In a heavy 12-inch skillet, heat the oil over moderate heat.
- Add as many plantain slices as you can without crowding the pan and brown for about 2 minutes on each side.
- As they brown, transfer them to paper towels to drain.
- On a board, using a spatula, press each slice flat and round, about ¼-inch thick and 2 inches in diameter.
- Heat the oil and fry the rounds again for about 1 minute on each side.
- Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.
- Serves 4.
Riz et Pois Rouges (Rice and Red Beans)
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
- 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 cup rice, uncooked
- 2 cans (15 ounces each) kidney beans, drained
- ¼ pound ham, chopped
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon oregano
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 2½ cups boiling water
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Heat oil in a large skillet.
- Cook and stir the onion, garlic, and green pepper until tender, about 3 minutes.
- In a separate bowl, combine and mix all the remaining ingredients.
- Add the onion mixture to the bowl and stir well.
- Pour entire mixture into an ungreased 2-quart casserole dish.
- Cover and bake until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender, about 55 minutes.
- Stir before serving.
Makes 5 to 6 servings.
Riz Djon-Djon (Rice and Haitian Mushrooms)
- 2 cups long grain rice
- 1 cup Haitian black mushrooms (or dried, black European mushrooms)
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 4 Tablespoons butter
- Salt, pepper, and thyme, to taste
- Remove the stems from the mushrooms and soak them in a cup of hot water for 30 minutes.
- Soak the heads in a separate cup of hot water.
- Sauté the rice and garlic in butter, then add all the other ingredients, including the water used to soak the mushrooms (discard the mushroom stems, which are inedible).
- Cook for 20 minutes and serve.
Haitian Fruit Salad
- 2 oranges, peeled and sectioned
- 3 bananas, sliced
- ½ cup melon balls
- ½ cup strawberries, sliced
- 4 slices pineapple, diced
- ½ cup raspberries
- ¼ cup roasted peanuts
- ¼ cup pineapple juice
- ¼ cup lime juice
- 1 cup sweetened condensed milk
- Shredded coconut (optional)
- In a large bowl, combine oranges, bananas, melon balls, strawberries, pineapple, raspberries, and nuts.
- In a separate bowl, combine the pineapple juice, lime juice, condensed milk, and beaten eggs.
- Pour the juice mixture on top of the fruit.
- Top with shredded coconut.
- 3 egg whites
- ¾ cup cocoa
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 4 to 8 Tablespoons sugar, to taste
- 1 cup cold milk
- 11 cups milk
- Mix egg whites, cocoa, cinnamon, and sugar into a paste.
- Dilute the paste with 1 cup of cold milk.
- Boil the remaining 11 cups of milk over low heat.
- Gradually add the paste to the boiling milk, beating constantly.
- Serve hot and foamy.
French-Style Lettuce Salad
- 1 head lettuce
- 1 garlic clove, sliced
- 2 Tablespoons salad oil
- 1 Tablespoon wine vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Pepper, to taste
- 1 Tablespoon parsley, minced
- 1 teaspoon lime juice
- Wash, drain, and thoroughly dry the lettuce.
- Rub a salad bowl with garlic and add the other ingredients to the bowl.
- Mix well.
- Tear lettuce leaves into bowl.
- Just before serving, toss thoroughly.
Serves 4 to 6.