MARGATE – When it comes to throwing a party, Trinidadians certainly know how to have a good time. Known mostly for their elaborate Carnival parades, at Christmas time they get together and have a grand ruckus.
“Trinis are crazy at this time of year,” said Kameel Sankar. “Yes, we love the fruitcake and the rum punch — and don’t forget the Carib (beer).”
Sankar was among some 100 people who recently attended a “Trini Christmas” celebration organized by the Trinidad and Tobago Diaspora Inc., along with the Trinidad and Tobago Citizens Association of Palm Beach, at the South Florida Convention Center, 6101 Northwest 31st St., Margate.
“A Trinidad Christmas is a unique Christmas,” said event sponsor Gerard Bishop, pastor of Restoration Outreach Church in Davie. “There are a lot of festivities and activities in addition to the musical culture that we already have.”
The Dec. 11 celebration offered a taste of Trinidad and Tobago’s rich history with students from the church’s Grace and
Faith Academy performing gospel, jazz music and Christmas carols on steel pan drums. But, like a true, old-fashioned Christmas in the twin-island Caribbean nation, the entertainment included the catchy, up-tempo rhythm of the Happy Parangeros band playing a box base, shack shack and cuatro player instruments, while the singers sometimes sang in a seeming strange tongue.
“The music in the background is called Parang music, which is a heavily Latin America influenced beat combined with soca and chutney — which is Indian music. So, the
blending of all the cultures takes place through the music at Christmas time,” said Bishop.
Rohna Oliver sang in unison with the band, “I want a piece a pork for me Christmas,” when they began to sing in English — albeit broken English. “Sometimes, we don’t know what they are singing about; other times they sing about the different foods and drinks that are prepared,” she said.
While radio stations in the U.S. play traditional Christmas carols, in the hearts of many Trinidad and Tobago immigrants are songs that recall the Christmas spirit at home long ago.
As a child, Oliver explained, groups called Parangeros would go from door to door knocking on bottles and singing songs like I want a drink a rum and a punch a crema.
“It’s like caroling but we gave them ham with bread and drink and then they go to the next house and do the same,” said Oliver, a Palm Beach resident.
According to the Census Bureau, Florida has the second largest population of Trinidad and Tobago immigrants. More than 13,000 of them live in the tri-county area, half of them scattered across Broward County communities.
While some of their traditions have been assimilated into American society, vendors at the Dec. 11 event sold customary Trinidadian Christmas cuisine such as spicy black pudding, and the aroma of pastilles and paimees wafting through the festive crowd evoked feelings of nostalgia.
“Pretty good,” Kim Behari said in between bites of alloo or potato pie.
Though the Trinidad and Tobago population is predominantly black, the nation comprises a mix of people, including those of African, East Indian and Spanish descent. Each ethnic group has its own customs and celebrations throughout the year.
Perhaps these numerous festivities are the reason why Trinidad and Tobagonians — or Trinis — are deemed one of the most friendly and jovial groups of people from the Caribbean.
As she offered cups of non-alcoholic sorrel and ginger beer drinks and an invitation to another Christmas party hosted by the Trinidad and Tobago Diaspora Inc., one of the vendors, Ida Royer, asked, “You don’t have a Trini friend?”
“Everybody needs a Trini friend,” she said, laughing. “If you don’t have one, time you got one.”
A look around the holiday merriment and it seemed that she was right.
Tracy-Ann Taylor may be contacted at Tayltra9@aol.com
Pictured is Ida Royer preparing Bread & Buljol.