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From Around the Caribbean: Five Easter Traditions We Still Practice

by Lou-Ann Jordan Apr 4, 2022

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Several images come to mind when we think of Easter, colourful eggs, chocolate, bunnies and baby chicks. But this hasn’t always been the case in the Caribbean. Easter has always been a special time for us, a time of great reverence throughout the region.

With Christianity being one of the predominant faiths in the region, many welcome the time of reflection it affords. It represents a time of supreme grace being extended to humanity. With much piety and reverence, our parents and theirs welcomed Easter as a reminder of this remarkable gift.

Back then, their gratitude translated into heading off joyfully to the Easter Sunday service. A significant part of that custom was to see little girls clad in beautiful, frilly dresses and young boys, handsomely outfitted in a crisp shirt and pants. Smartly decked out, entire households spent the morning in worship and the afternoon in familial frolic.

The holiday has always been a time of coming together. A period spent basking in the love of family. Undoubtedly, attending church was one of those “coming together” practices. It was possibly the most common family ritual, and it continues to be today for many. Still, there were a few more traditions.

As with most Caribbean events that bring family and friends together, food, fun and games are common denominators, and Easter is no different. Certain types of foods and pastimes were and still are eagerly enjoyed. Let’s look at five Easter traditions that are shared within our region.

Hot Cross Buns

Hot cross buns are one of the most anticipated treats during the holidays. Usually, in preparation for Good Friday, bakeries’ showcases were adorned with these sweet, spiced buns with iced crosses. This traditional sweet treat for breakfast was not the norm in some households, so it was a welcomed change. Though less popular on some islands, hot cross buns continue to be an Easter staple. Have you wondered how the tradition began? It has been traced back to a 14th century St. Albans monk, who is said to have distributed the fruity buns to the needy.

Good Friday Salted Mackerel

Customarily, throughout the Lenten season, families would forgo chicken and consume only fish. It would all culminate at the Good Friday lunch. Now, according to which island you’re from, the type of fish and its preparation would vary. Jamaicans are known for preparing delicious, coconut flavoured rundown, which features salted mackerel, while Trinidadians and Grenadians prefer a stewed version. This year, many of us are looking forward to the tasty mackerel side paired with ground provision (boiled root veggies). It’s a tradition that lives on!  

Kite Flying

Kite flying is possibly one of the most characteristic pastimes of the holiday. After a morning spent at church, it was habitual to head off to the nearest park, savannah, pasture or beach in the afternoon. It all depended on which part of the Caribbean you resided. Kite flying is still a huge practice today. It’s pretty much synonymous with Easter. Around the region, the sky is dotted with brightly coloured, box, star, or hexagon-shaped homemade and company manufactured kites. Read our Find Yello article to learn more about kite flying origins and tips on how to make your own.

Beach or River Outdoor Activity/Lime

In keeping with the general idea of family and community, another popular pastime continues to be packing up the family, calling a few friends and heading to a body of water. For some, it’s an afternoon spent at the beach with kids playing in the sand or parents and children getting in some kite flying. Then some spend the entire Easter weekend camping on the beach in a grand family affair. Still, others head to the river, where armed with all the essentials, they cook up a tasty curry duck over an open fire. Interestingly, some islands avoid outings to the beach or the river on Good Friday. Usually, trips take place on the Sunday after church or on Easter Monday.

Easter Festivals and Parades

Several islands have always celebrated the holiday with a fun and festive spectacle. In Barbados, the annual Easter Bonnet parade continues to be popular. Everyone enjoys the display of creative headdresses. While in Curaçao, the Seú or Harvest Parade has always drawn a crowd. The day involves a celebration of the harvest and gaily clad partners performing traditional dances. Virgin Gorda is also known for hosting an elaborate Easter festival. It’s one of BVI’s largest annual events. Additionally, St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Easterval features various sporting events, boat racing, and beach parties.

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So, traditionally, Easter was less associated with eggs, bunnies, and baby chicks here in the Caribbean. Yet, that’s also true of our buns, kites and parades. An important celebration in our region, we’re often reminded that the most significant tradition is the spiritual meaning behind the holiday. It is a time that speaks of a grave sacrifice that evokes gratitude and joy. So, let thankfulness and happiness underscore the time spent with family and friends this year.

Happy Easter!