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Traditions and customs in the Caribbean

Part of the fun that comes with venturing to new places is learning about that destination's traditions and customs. In essence, holidaymakers get to live as the locals do and try on a new culture for size. The Caribbean is rife with traditional holidays and customs unfamiliar to the average British holidaymaker. So, to clue you up on what you might encounter if you're heading west, we've whipped up a little sneak peak of these islands' vibrant lifestyles.


  • Carnival is one of the most celebrated times in Aruba, having been brought to the island in the 1930s. Today, festivities extend for a month and typically consist of festivals, concerts and some seriously wild and colourful parades.

  • Aruba's national religion is Catholic, so many of its traditional celebrations are of Catholic origin. Saint John's Day is celebrated with bonfires and 'Dera Gai', which consists of the burying of a rooster. These days it's just a ceremonial burial, accompanied by blindfolded dancers that try to hit the 'calabash' – a funny-looking gourd – with a stick.

  • Christmas in Aruba isn't Christmas at all without the making of 'ayacas', a traditional dish with Venezuelan origins. It's essentially boiled plantains or banana leaves stuffed with chicken, pork and spices, covered in dough, then boiled.

  • Barbados

  • Pass through a festival in Barbados, and you'll probably cross paths with a Tuk Band. You'll be able to spot them by their brightly-coloured clothes and their typical playing of a bass drum, kettle drum and pennywhistle. Tuk Band-members are usually also accompanied by costumed figures, the combination of which is meant to get revellers dancing.

  • Christmas isn't just a time for good cheer in Barbados, it's also traditionally a time for giving the house a good clean.

  • The traditional performances by the Barbados Landship date back to the 1800s, and consist of a theatre group clad in nautical outfits, whose dances are meant to imitate ships passing through storms. Performers typically do so to African beats, though the tradition comes from Barbados' British roots.

  • Cuba

  • When it comes to celebrations in Cuba, Cubans like to do it big – as in big numbers of people. The bigger the group, the better, so extended family and friends are often rallied together to make a suitable crowd.

  • Though Cuba has strong Spanish influences, baseball is the country's most popular sport and favoured over traditional Spanish sports. Baseball was banned after the first Cuban War of Independence in the 19th century, so the sport began to represent Cuba's dream of freedom – an image that still carries on today.

  • Cuban recipes are usually passed down orally from generation to generation, keeping family culinary traditions intact. Rarely will you see these recipes written down.

  • Jamaica

  • When addressing new acquaintances in Jamaica, start by using formal titles like Mr and Mrs followed by their surname, then move on to a first name basis only when invited. From there, use nicknames only when asked. This shows that a personal relationship has officially been established.

  • It's considered polite to finish everything on your plate when dining out or at a friend's' house.

  • Families and friends are incredibly important to Jamaicans, as people in Jamaica tend not to accept the word of or trust people of authority outside their close circles. They'll even avoid using banks, opting instead to consult friends and family members for loans.

  • St Lucia

  • St Lucia runs on 'island time' rather than a traditional clock. It's said St Lucians are rarely in a hurry and frequently arrive late even for formal meetings. Public buses don't usually adhere to a schedule.

  • It's customary for guests to be given a small gift by their hosts, especially if they've travelled a long way.

  • In St Lucia, it's traditional for women to be the stars of the show. They're encouraged more frequently than boys to do well in school and carry onto university. Women traditionally run the household as well as working.

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