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Bon Pasco y Bon Aña – Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! That’s the spirit of the One Happy Island of Aruba at Christmas Time. The season starts just after Halloween and goes well into the New Year, this season is called Carnival. But what is there to expect?
Aruba is a blend of the Dutch, Venezuelan and Caribbean traditions. It’s a time of the year that is spent with family and friends and brings a new to everyone. The food is amazing and one tradition that resembles the states is the culinary delight of fruit cake. However, theirs is a bit different in taste it starts with a black cake called bolo pretu and is infused with brandy and fruit liquors and loaded with dried fruit and spices. You may enjoy the pistachio cake instead or how about the pan de jamon, or bread laced with ham? The Christmas Ham is at most tables with a beautiful glaze, but you will find a turkey at some homes. And make sure that you wash it down with ponche crema, a Latin American drink that is a bit sweeter than Egg Nog.
If there is one thing that you must try when in Aruba at holiday time it’s ayaca. It’s the prize dish at any table. The ayaca’s culinary heritage starts in Venezuela - you will have a boiled banana or plantain leaf that is filled with chicken, pork, or ham and a combination of spices, olives, raisins, cashews, prunes, onions and of course the secret family ingredient, that is spread over a cornmeal mixture. When it is time to eat, the reboil the entire stuffed leaf.
The lights of the island will be shining brightly, the streets are lined with lights! Plus the children have many ways of receiving gifts throughout the season. Santa comes to celebrate with the children more than once - you see with the many cultures, he’s celebrated in all of them. In Dutch, he’s called, Sinterklass, and he comes on December 5th to bring the kids sweets and toys. Then on December 25th Santa Claus comes to bring the children gifts under the Christmas Tree. Finally, on January 6th the Three Kings come and deliver gifts at the Nativity Scene. Plus for our Jewish friends, they celebrate the Festival of Light, Hanukkah, with 8 days of gift-giving.
And just like here in the US, you will start hearing holiday music being played on radio stations at the end of October. However, you may not hear White Christmas, instead, you will hear more traditional music of Gaita and Paranda Arubiano. And after the holiday, on December 31st, you will hear traditional caroling called Dande. Usually, it’s groups of 5 -6 people singing together. There is even a Dande Festival.
As the New Year comes around the shift goes from lights to fireworks. And in Oranjestad, you will hear tons of Chinese Firecrackers going off on New Year's Eve to ward off evil spirits. The beaches will have beautiful fireworks displays.
On New Year’s Day, at exactly 12:00 PM hoards of people rush into the ocean wearing orange hats for the New Year’s Plunge at Moomba Beach. It’s a tradition that was started by the Dutch. Now that’s a tradition that I could get into!
Aruba is a fun island that has so much to share with all of its many traditions and different backgrounds that there is truly something for everyone at the holiday time. What a way to spend your holiday season!