I have very fond memories of Christmas in Dominica. What immediately comes to mind is the authenticity of those experiences.
It starts way before waking up to folks caroling on our balcony and the Christmas morning chaudeau and cake; it usually starts weeks ahead with the Christmas projects on the way. My dad, an architect and builder, would have his client’s construction projects to work on, but he’d always taken on a home project. They would include building a new cabinet, installing something new in the bathroom, putting new tiles, building new chairs. For some weird reason, they all seem to wrap up on Christmas morning, and my mom detested that.
We’d also get Christmas cards from my aunt and cousins in England, US and Canada. Some of them contained British pounds, US and Canadian dollars, and we’d need to go to Roseau to change the funds into EC, and do some Christmas shopping. My mother would purchase new fabric for curtains from Astaphan’s and LA Dupigny. She’d also make sure to buy fabric to take to Paix Bouche to our beloved seamstress, Maymie, who’d been hired to sew our lovely Christmas outfits.
A few days before Christmas, we knew the villagers’ names who were killing cows, pigs, goats, and even sheep. We also knew that we had to make room in the freezer, among the large containers of ice, to store all the meat.
As soon as the village animals were killed, the various parts were assigned for various uses. The blood was drained from the cows and used to make black pudding. The skin was removed and sold as fwachin. Every part of the cow was used, including the stomach, intestines, organs, feet, tongue, head, and skin — some parts for stewing, souse, black pudding, and soups. For the pig, the pork was salted and smoked and goat meat was used to make goat water, for stewing, and curry.
All this marked the start of a very festive holiday season.
In addition to buying meats, we often shared homemade or homegrown gifts from neighbors, family members, and friends. Foods like sorrel, peas, cakes, yams, dasheen, plantains, babawouley, tannia, and other ground provisions would exchange hands. Neighbors, who specialized in certain crops would give to others and they’d also be on the receiving end as well.
We’d travel to Roseau for Christmas Eve shopping right after we’d put in our order for mastiff bread. Shopping in Roseau was chaotic yet fun. Lines were also long at the grocery stores, but we needed to make sure that we had enough groceries to last till after New Years’. On our visit to Roseau, my mom always made a pit stop at France Bakery for a slice of fruit cake with icing. Their cakes were the best in Dominica and they were a household name.
The meals were simple yet exquisite. My mother Magdalene Augustine Massicot was an incredible cook. She was also one of the most creative and resourceful women I know. She often started cooking Christmas lunch-dinner right after Midnight mass or before we were awake. Our red beans would be soaking overnight, meats seasoned and ready to hit the stove. We always had extra propane tanks since there would be lots of cooking, which often included a delicious brunch.
Dinner often included beef, ham, rice, baked chicken, provision, baked macaroni pie, yam pie or banana pie, salad, red beans, etc. This would be accompanied by the freshest and tastiest sorrel and ginger beer. We often cooked extra since folks would pass by, and my mom always made sure that she had something to offer guests. We would also have lots of alcoholic and softer beverages, and they were often placed on the coffee table. My mom used to make plantain and passion fruit wine. She was also a master at making rum punch, and it was always a staple at Christmastime. So when guests stopped by they had easy access to help themselves and share in the festive moments.
Later on in the evening, my sisters and I would set up for night festivities. We had a bar and sold bakes and fried or barbeque chicken. Folks came in from neighboring villages to dance and hang out. This was a great opportunity to bond with our friends and villagers.
Those nostalgic memories are priceless. Although we spent Christmas in Dominica last year, most of those traditions are no longer .
This Christmas, I created a Dominican menu and thought about my mom, who passed away right before Christmas 7 years ago. I miss her and wished she was here to celebrate with my family. We spent the day, just us. It was the first year that we celebrated alone. It was laid back, fun, and we bonded over our love of food, jokes, and well, the kids played video games with their cousins in Canada.
Here’s what we ate!