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Thread: Christmas in the caribbean

  1. #1
    Senior Member charles's Avatar
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    Christmas in the caribbean

    CHRISTMAS IN THE CARIBBEAN

    When I was in my late twenties – many years ago, but I have a fine memory – I went on an Island hoping trip with two friends. This was possible only because (the now defunct) ‘Eastern Airlines’ was still flying and had some sort of dominion over the island skies. A former astronaut was at the helm of that airline in those times. Their fares were dirt cheap and the seats were soft. There was never a problem with excess luggage and we got our first drink while still on the ground before take-off. Here I speak of “Economy-Class”. God only knows what was going on behind the blue and green curtains of First-Class.” It was always silent there. We booked the “SEE THE CARIBBEAN WITH EASTERN” package as opposed to the $59 round trip from Miami to Nassau or the famous “EASTERN COAST MIAMI TO NEW YORK FOR $99.99” It was so very easy to feel rich in those days. As a special benefit; one of the stops was Aruba – so I got to say hello to family.

    It was in mid-December and we flew out of Miami to Trinidad – Tobago and then on to Curacao and Aruba. From there it was St, Martin and then a hop to St Kitts and on to Puerto Rico and finally back to Miami. When we left Miami, the stores had already started gearing up the Christmas store-fronts and SANTA music was playing everywhere. It was Christmas, shopping, food binges and everything that comes with December with the only thing missing being snow. The sound of Christmas was everywhere and I became sure that SANTA had a series of twins working all the malls and that Bing Crosby had “NAILED” the Christmas song market beyond a doubt. The biggest business in Miami was selling the spray cans of “Snow Frost” that every home and business blasted onto their windows and trees. It was white and it was messy and it was hard to get off after the holidays. Christmas brought such an aura of festivity and splurging that it infected anyone alive and cognizant during those times. I am not a young man but I safely say – “That was then and what I just shared is a fact.”

    As we started to hit the islands, things changed. People didn’t push Christmas and there weren’t any sales or specials that I noticed. The restaurants we went to had the same standard menus as always with one exception. Almost all had little notes stating that they would be closed on Christmas day. Not – CLOSED CHRISTMAS – but instead messages like “We will be closed on ‘Holy Day’. Subtle difference but difference none the less. Most of the restaurants (except on Puerto Rico) did have some sort of an announcement that you could order the local Christmas specialty a few days in advance of ‘Holy Day’. When we got to Aruba, the “special” was AYAKA.

    Our EASTERN jet landed and we were immediately on the way to my grandparent’s house. They were great to be with and we wouldn’t have to pay lodging, double whammy reason for loving it. I grew up on Aruba so my sense memories had stored so many things. One at a time, they awakened. On our first morning our housekeeper awakened us to black coffee and buttered bread. Off to the side of the dining area and in the kitchen the women were washing banana leaves. They washed these leaves endlessly and then cut out the center leaf-thread only leaving the soft leafy portion of the banana leaf. Other ladies were cooking the ground beef that would be a part of the stuffing. This stuffing included cut olives, prunes and an assortment of things that make taste buds come to life and mouths start to gently salivate. Once they were ready with this concoction from heaven they would set it off to the side and let it cool. Some sort of light dough was also made and this was spread out on the banana leaves. By now, one of the ladies had cut the leaves into special sizes to hold the dough perfectly. On top of that a giant healthy sized spoon of the cooked meat was placed and the banana leaves were folded to a standard size then tied with a special string to keep it all together. A package for my “taste bud heaven” all wrapped in banana leaves and held together with string. That – is an AYAKA. Now - I am positive that I missed some of the steps and ingredients and have forgotten to mention them here; however it is not about the procedure but more about the simplicity of the celebration. You see, those banana packets will end up on a plate for Christmas. The guys I was with insisted on trying one of them and Grandma obliged.

    Plates were put in front of us
    Either a pair of scissors or a very sharp knife accompanied the fork.
    Strings were cut.
    Banana leaves were opened
    AYAKA was pulled out with a fork on to the plate
    Empty leaves were placed in a large bowl in the center of the table
    Everyone noiselessly ate – Kind of like FIRST CLASS on EASTERN.

    We went on to the other destinations and instead of asking the ridiculous “Hey, what is there to do here?” - it now became “Hello, what is your local Christmas dish on this island and is there anywhere we could try it?” We had settled down into the Caribbean reality of how to eat and how to behave in another culture. Alas, it should have happened at island #1 but it didn’t. It happened on Aruba and in my Grandparents home.

    Yesterday, I was driving to do some shopping and noticed one of the typical Aruban LOTTO huts on the side of the road. It was adorned with Red and Green bulbs and a fat SANTA made from the inflatable material that remained upright because a small fan is constantly pumping air into it. A white and red lettered sign called to try your luck for Christmas. About twenty yards further, there was another sign stating that they had AYAKAS for sale. I don’t gamble.

    What is it we do on Christmas in the Caribbean? The answer to that today is that we do our very best to make sure that our visitors are comfortable. Today, most islands are trying to hop north and looking at the trends of those that will visit their shores. It is the way things are and in the larger scheme of things, this change is not necessarily a bad thing, it is just a change.

    When I was in my late twenties – many years ago – three of us went Island hoping and left behind a turkey dinner only to eat food wrapped in banana leaves.

    be well
    charles

  2. #2
    Aruba since 1979
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    Andrea J.'s Avatar
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    thank you charles......
    my how things have changed :-(

  3. #3
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    This almost made me feel as if I were experiencing the flight; the various Islands; and the "bill of fare at the restaurants." I agree with Andrea, my dear friend; "Unfortunately, things have changed; but I just hope the spirit of the holidays never change. With your memories from the past; you, my friend, Charles, brought back a bit of your youth and feelings of those days.

    Your friend,

    Ed

  4. #4
    Senior Member charles's Avatar
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    Thank you Sir

    be well
    charles

    Quote Originally Posted by Edronenburg View Post
    This almost made me feel as if I were experiencing the flight; the various Islands; and the "bill of fare at the restaurants." I agree with Andrea, my dear friend; "Unfortunately, things have changed; but I just hope the spirit of the holidays never change. With your memories from the past; you, my friend, Charles, brought back a bit of your youth and feelings of those days.

    Your friend,

    Ed

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