Posted on 12/15/2020
Steeped in traditions which are centuries old, Antigua and Barbuda's festive activities for the Christmas holidays stem from the island's European and African heritage. They include carol trees, highlanders, stilt-walkers, 'John Bull', long ghosts, 'Jumpa-Ben' and of course, lots of seasonal foods and drinks.
- Carol trees were carried by Christmas carol singers as they went from door-to-door offering greetings. Trees were made of wood with several arms and they were adorned with Japanese-style lanterns.
- In Antigua, the ‘John Bull’ character is thought to have been created by enslaved Africans to satirise their British masters. Based on an African witch doctor, John Bull is a grotesque figure dressed in old clothes and dry banana leaves with animal horns.
- The highland fling was staged at Christmas after being introduced to the island by Scottish settlers. Performers dress in traditional kilts with masks made of wire and cowhide whips.
- Long ghosts were larger-than-life masked figures on stilts who provoked terror in children by peeping into their bedroom windows looking for ‘donations’.
- Also popular at Christmas is the ‘Dancing Jumble’ or ‘Jumpa-Ben’ which is believed to have originated in west Africa, primarily in Ivory Coast, Guinea and Benin. This character moves around on stilts to the music of kettle and bass drums, triangle and a ‘boom pipe’ made from lengths of iron pipe.
- In 19th-century Antigua, quadrille parties were popular with people who had money. Homes were decorated with sprigs of fragrant allspice called ‘pimento’. Bay leaf was also used for decoration, and cherry branches were made into trees.
- Drinks included fermented Christmas bush, ginger and water molasses and food was a choice between mutton, fowl, pork, turkey, duck, ham, cakes and tarts. But the poor usually ate pork and fried dumplings.