Dominicans have their own set of customs for celebrating Christmas and the arrival of the new year, such as their intriguing tradition of jumping backwards into the sea to leave their bad luck behind in the year that is drawing to a close.
The Dominican Republic is renowned for its almost permanent summer. Christmas is enjoyed with great enthusiasm over with locals celebrating the event from late October onwards. In the Caribbean, houses and shopfronts are adorned very early with warm and bright Christmas decorations. Dominicans enjoy a lengthy festive period, with Spaniards fascinated by several of their popular customs and traditions that are associated with this time of year. Keep reading to discover some of them.
- ‘Angelitos’ instead of Secret Santa
In the Dominican Republic, the popular tradition that we know as ‘Secret Santa’—in which gifts are anonymously exchanged within a group of friends—is referred to as ‘Angelitos’ (Little Angels). Both traditions have the same origin, dating back to the gifts given by the Three Wise Men at the birth of Jesus Christ.
- Merengue and Christmas carols
Music is intrinsically linked to Dominican culture, and also plays a fundamental role in Christmas celebrations. During the festive period, Dominicans love nothing more than enjoying their most popular music genre, merengue, on the streets. As with many countries, Christmas carols are also performed live. In houses, meanwhile, families and friends often gather to listen and dance along to the Merengue Christmas Special, which has been broadcast by the radio station Cima for over 30 years. To celebrate Christmas’ magical ability to bring families together (even if only for a few days), including relatives who now live in other countries, a special song is often sung: ‘Volvió Juanita’.
- Many homemade delicacies
Dominicans have a really sweet tooth, so tt should come as no surprise that sweet dishes are a real staple of the Christmas diet. Punch, bread pudding, flan and sweet potato bread are just some of the most popular homemade desserts. While we’re on the subject of gastronomy, we can’t go without mentioning some of the most traditional Christmas dishes. These include spit roasted pork, baked pork leg, ‘pasteles en hoja’ (plantain and beef pockets) and ‘moro de guandules’ (a traditional rice dish with pigeon peas, coconut milk and sofrito). Any of these can be enjoyed with telera, a huge 30-inch long piece of bread!
- Empty suitcase to travel in the new year
The most anticipated moment of the Dominican festive period is, quite possibly, the evening of 31st December. The whole family gets together to ring in the new year and wish each other the best of luck for the upcoming 12 months. One intriguing custom is to walk around the block with an empty suitcase, collecting positive energy that will allow the person carrying it to travel in the new year. Another is to eat 12 grapes in the final twelve seconds before the clock strikes midnight, as celebrated in Spain. Incense is often burned for good luck, while many people opt to jump backwards into the sea to leave their bad luck behind in the year that is drawing to a close.
New Year in the Caribbean
Travelling to the Dominican Republic at this time of year is an extraordinary opportunity to discover how Christmas is celebrated in a different culture. It also poses a great opportunity to mark the start of the new year in a different manner, far from the biting cold that inhabitants of the Northern Hemisphere have to suffer in December.
Santo Domingo, Punta Cana, Bayahibe, Samaná and Puerto Plata are some of the possible destinations where you can enjoy the wonderful climate of the Dominican Republic as you see in the new year, welcoming 2020 as you’re immersed in the locals’ contagious joy.
“Winter” holidays in the Dominican Republic
Besides celebrating Christmas and the new year as the locals do, tourists can also experience various leisure activities during the months of November and December.
Below is a short list of some of the things you can do in the Dominican Republic during your “winter” holidays under the Caribbean sun.
- Visit the Manatee Marine Sanctuary in the Estero Hondo National Park (Puerto Plata), which is considered to be the largest manatee refuge. Manatees are an endangered species and indigenous to the Dominican Republic and are considered an endangered species.
- Delve into the fascinating underwater archaeology reserves of Bayahibe, where 18th century galleon wrecks discovered by marine biologists have been recreated.
- Enjoy Santo Domingo de Fiesta and its iconic nightlife and folklore, which is sponsored by the country’s Tourist Board on Friday and Saturday evening at 7.00pm. Free concerts are also held on the concourse of the Plaza de España.
- Learn to surf at Playa de Macao (Punta Cana), where surf classes are given every weekend.