A Very Caribbean Christmas

There are plenty of great reasons to head south for the holidays.

A white Christmas isn’t for everyone, unless it includes white sandy beaches? There are plenty of reasons throughout the Caribbean to celebrate the holidays in warmer weather—from candlelight processions and dancing to some surprising Jewish history.

Christmas trees line the road in Old San Juan.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

San Juan has plenty going for it—historic forts, tropical rainforest, delicious food—and there’s no passport needed for an American to get there!

During the holidays, the city shines even brighter—literally in the case of Old San Juan. The historic buildings are draped with lights, wreathes, and trees, including the City Hall, so you definitely want to wander the cobblestoned streets to take it all in.

Holiday feasts cover all the traditional and typical Puerto Rican dishes, like tostones (fried plantains) with stewed shrimp, salt cod fritters, and roast pork shoulder. And be sure to sample some “coquito,” an eggnog made with coconut milk and island rum! 

If you’re lucky, you can also catch a parranda, Puerto Rican caroling, so brush up on your “Feliz Navidad” before you hit the island!

“Los Posadas” often end with “las piñatas”!

Mexico

In much of Mexico, locals celebrate “Las Posadas,” which is a multi-day procession reenacting the story of Christmas. It features both children and adults marching through streets with costumes and candles, and stopping at different “inns.” Eventually, each procession ends with live music, feasting, and the breaking of a pinata, so make sure you don’t go home early! 

While nine days may seem like a lot, the celebrating actually goes on even longer. The holiday season starts on December 12th with the feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City, featuring fireworks and more parades, and Three Kings Day is on January 6th, where there’s more gift giving.

Curaçao surprisingly has one of the oldest synagogues in the Americas.

Curacao

This Dutch territory has an interesting history—there was a point when more than half of its European population was Jewish. And nobody would guess that among the colorful Dutch and Spanish buildings across the island, you can find a synagogue that dates back to 1651!

Welcomed by the island’s religious tolerance, Jewish settlers came from Amsterdam and built a thriving community. The synagogue is still operating today, so visitors can tour the impressive interior and if they’re lucky, see hundreds of candles lit on its four massive chandeliers.  

Carnival is celebrated throughout the Caribbean, but rarely around the holidays.

St. Kitts and Nevis

Like a lot of the Caribbean, the dual island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis has sandy beaches, warm weather, and beautiful clear water. But it has one thing you won’t find at other destinations during the holiday season: Carnival! 

Instead of holding this can’t-miss Caribbean celebration in March, like other Caribbean islands, Carnival starts in late November on St. Kitts and runs through early January, making it the perfect place for holiday party-seekers. The celebration is often referred to as “Sugar Mas,” and it kicks off with calypso shows and lively street celebrations of “fetes.” There’s even one party that starts before daybreak, J’Ouvert, where revelers throw paint and water at each other. And if you’re staying until New Year’s Day, there’s another parade that winds through Basseterre and features traditional island masks.

Belize has an impressive barrier reef. and an entire month of celebrations!

Belize

Does this coastal nation love the holidays? You better Belize it! Anyone traveling to this Caribbean gem can experience holiday celebrations throughout the entire month of December.   

The “Christmas Bram” is one local celebration you can’t miss—literally because it’s a lively parade winding through the streets! The singing, dancing, and music mixes in creole culture and features drums, horns, and accordions for some lively rhythm.

The country is home to many people of African descent and Kwanza is celebrated by Belizeans on December 26th with feasts, colorful African cloth, drumming and music, lighting of candles, and of course a giant feast.