Christmas trees and decorations used in Dominican Republic can go from simple to very elaborate. Many of the decorations are white in color. I presume this is to give the illusion of snow. Since the country is green year round, what would be so festive about having a tree this color? So, since there is no snow, it is a nice alternative for those looking for a white Christmas.
A Dominican tradition is the lighting and decorating of the Charamicos (which in Dominican slang is a dry tree branch). These items are Dominican folk art and can be found in abundance around the country during the Christmas season.
One can see Charamicos being made and sold on many of the street corners and in open places along the roads. These decorations are fashioned from straw, tree branches and pliable wood. They are made in the form of angels, cows, deer, some giraffe looking animals, pots, and wreaths. The nicer ones are painted in white and adorned with balls, ribbons and lights. In Santo Domingo, a good place to see and purchase these decorations is along Churchill Avenue between Ave. 27 de Febrero and Kennedy Ave. They have every variety and type of Charamicos one might fancy. If you want something special tell the men and maybe they can whip you up what is your heart’s desire.
Nacimiento – Creche – Nativity Scene
One of the most popular decoration is the traditional Nacimiento/ Nativity Scene. It is refreshing to see Nativity scenes displayed openly throughout the entire country. You can see the nativity displays in front of stores and Government buildings.
A very special decoration for Navidad is the Creche with the traditional Dominican Muñecas Limé (information and history of the Limé Doll). Muñecas Limé can come in all shapes and sizes some are made of wood, white ceramic or just plain clay.
Flor de Pascua – Poinsettia
A favorite adornment is the Flor de Pascua or Poinsettia. This traditional flower is also known as its Christmas name Estrella de Navidad translated the Star of the Birth of Christ. This flower is known and loved the world over. The difference in Dominican Republic is that the flower grows outside and can get very large.
Last but not least are lights, lights and more lights!
Singing Christmas carols, known as villancicos, for the neighbors and inviting the singers in for a treat or a nice drink is a fun tradition here on the island. The drink is usually Té jengibre / Ginger tea (ginger tea recipe), coffee, and for imbibers ron/ rum. The caroling venture usually wrap-ups with a good party that includes drinking, dancing and in general a good time for all.
There are many Holiday songs here that are unique to the Dominican Republic and the other Latin American countries. Here, as in most of the Latin countries, many of the Christmas songs are accompanied by a merengue rhythm. This results in the Christmas carols being quite danceable, which all Dominicans delight in.
Some notable songs in this style are Volvió Juanita by Milly Quezada, Salsa pa tu lechón by Johnny Ventura, La trulla navideña by del Conjunto Quisquella.
The traditional Christmas songs in English cannot be translated word for word to make any sense in Spanish. Because of this many of the songs in Spanish can be totally dissimilar. Note also that in many cases the translations are far from literal because if they were translated word for word the rhythm and meaning of the song would be lost.
Spanish – English Christmas Songs
Here are some names of English Christmas songs with their counterparts in Spanish.
*Ya llegó la Navidad/ Deck the Halls
*Feliz Navidad/ Merry Christmas
*Qué verdes son/ O Christmas Tree
*Adornemos Nuestras Casas/ Deck the Halls
*Venid, Adoremos/ O Come All Ye Faithful
*La Primera Navidad/ The First Noel
*Felixidad al Mundo/ Joy to the World
*Jesús en Pesebre/ Away in a Manger
*Campanas de Navidad/ I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
*Noche de Paz/ Silent Night
*Noche Sagrada/ O Holy Night
*A la Nanita, Nana/ Traditional Lullaby
*Los Tres Reyes/ We Three Kings
*El Niño del Tambor/ The Little Drummer Boy
*Los doce días de Navidad/ The 12 Days of Christmas
*Hoy en la tierra/ Angels We Have Heard on High
*¿Qué niño es éste?/ What Child Is This?
CASCABEL/ Jingle Bells
One of my favorite, simple Spanish carols is Cascabel. There are many different versions but the one I have here is my favorite version because it has the traditional Jingle Bells tune.
Es Noel, es Noel Suena el cascabel De un venado muy veloz Que tiene Santa Claus Corre ya, juega ya
Hoy es Navidad Los juguetes hay Que dar por Toda la ciudad Qué bonito es, Es correr con rapidez
Ir con Santa Claus y escuchar su voz Suena el cascabel Quiero ir con él Con mis amiguito
Y cantar feliz noel!!!!
Los peces en el río
Los peces en el río/ The Fishes in the River is a traditional Spanish Christmas Carol that is popular in Spain and Latin America alike. It is about how the fish in the river keep returning to where Mary is so they can see God being born. This is the songs estribillo/ chorus in Spanish and English.
Pero mira cómo beben, los peces en el río.
Pero mira cómo beben, por ver a Dios nacido.
Beben y beben, y vuelven a beber.
Los peces en el río, por ver a Dios nacer.
But look how the fish in the river drink.
But look how they drink in order to see the God who is born.
They drink and they drink and they return to drink,
The fish in the river to see God being born.
*El Burro y el Pavo/ The Donkey and the Turkey
El Pavo Y El Burro
El Pavo Y El Burro is a traditional children’s song Merengue style. It is the story of a turkey that lies around all year getting fat, making fun of the hard-working burro. Then Christmas comes. The turkey will be stuck like a pig. As the chorus says interpreted roughly” To all fat pigs Christmas Eve will arrive”
Since Christmas is such a grand and important holiday here in the Dominican Republic it deserves a page all its own. It is such a large celebration that it starts in October and ends in January. With its exhilarating parties, spectacular fireworks, relaxing family time and fantastic food, there is just too much good information for a small section.
Christmas in Dominican Republic lasts for about 3 months, more or less. It is a time to get together with friends and family and enjoy. Although here everyone seems to have a great time always, Christmas is even more of a delight. The airlines are booked solid with people returning to their roots to celebrate in the place they call home. There is such an excitement felt in the streets throughout the country. The passion culminates with the fireworks that seem to happen more often the closer the holiday gets.
Trying to do business during this time is not easy, peoples minds are not on accomplishing anything. All that seems to be on the mind is having fun and relishing the company of others.
Indulging ones self with all the traditional foods that one does not get throughout the year is much anticipated. The aromas of food whiffs out into the streets from kitchens where people are preparing their specialties. There are parties, both private and community gatherings everywhere. The festive spirit is in abundance. On the faces of people, the lights and decorations, the festive feelings, the fireworks and the food.
Fuegos artificiales/ Fireworks are a momentous tradition here in Dominican Republic. Children and adults love shooting off cohetes y petardos/ rockets and firecrackers of all types. Hospitals are especially busy mending burnt and mangled fingers of people that get a bit carried away with the fireworks. There are stands all over the country selling these festive and dangerous toys to light the sky or to make a big bang. In this way the season is celebrated with a bang!
Most businesses will close around 6 PM on Christmas Eve and some will not open at all on this day. This gives families time to get together for the big celebration of food and drink. In most tourist areas businesses are open, but I wouldn’t count on it. It’s best to have what you need before this day just to be on the safe side.
The main celebration happens on Noche Buena/ Christmas Eve (December 24th). This is when the big family dinners are held. People really do some substantial celebrating. Most people return to their home towns in order to enjoy the holiday with family and friends. Not to mention, most Dominicans love their mothers or aunts cooking so the must return home to enjoy the feast that is prepared. This family gathering is the center of the holiday festivity. December 25th, Christmas Day, is the day to recuperate.
As a traditional token of Christmas cheer, most employees receive an extra months pay in December, and so have a little extra cash on hand. This is called Double Sueldo, a Christmas bonus Dominican style. It is about the same as a months pay and helps to make Christmas holidays a more lighthearted time.
La Misa del Gall
Religious people usually go to church for the Christmas Eve service. This service called La Misa del Gall. It is a Midnight Mass traditional type service. There is also a mass on Christmas Day usually held at 12 noon for those who didn’t make it to the Midnight mass or for those that like to go to both. This way one can get a little rest in between.
If you are in Santo Domingo in Dominican Republic during the holidays try and make it to the service in the First Church in the Americas, Cathedral de Santa Maria in Colonial Zone. This is service is one of the largest and most elaborate in the whole country. Make sure to get there very early or you will be observing from the outside, which is fine also.
A tradition for gift exchange is called Un Angelito/ A Little Angel. All the social classes practice this. All the names of the participants are placed in a sack. Then a name is selected from the bunch. The person whose name you chose is your Angelito. Every week during the Christmas holiday you are to give that person, whose name you chose, a gift. The identity of your Angelito is to be kept secret until the last day of the gift exchange where you must divulge yourself.