American University of the Caribbean knows how to say goodbye in style. Dr. Testa, the senior associate dean, is moving on to a new place and a new position. So, the school threw him a tropical party for the staff and students to enjoy!
The funniest part of the celebration was the Dean Testa bobble-heads that faculty members auctioned off. The best part was the yummy food. There were so many things to taste! Fruit juice, ice cream from Carousel, fresh fruit, coconuts… yes please!
One of the tables was made to look like a traditional Caribbean dress, complete with someone wearing it.
We managed to get one of the last coconuts from the coconut man.
To top it off, a local youth drumming group came and played a few songs. It doesn’t get better than tropical fruit and steel drums! Happy trails, Dr. Testa.
Holi is an ancient Hindu festival that celebrates the advent of spring. It occurs each year around the spring equinox.
The legend behind Holi is the story of a prince who is rescued by Lord Krishna from his arrogant and evil father. The king’s wicked sister tries to burn the prince, but she ends up being consumed instead. As the story goes, people put the ashes from the fire on their heads.
Today, Holi is celebrated with a party in which participants throw colored powder on each other, eat special food, and drink. Hindus as well as non-Hindus participate in Asia and around the world.
Celebrating Holi Sint Maartin-style means a party of on the beach, of course! The South Asian Medical Student Association at AUC hosted Holi at Mullet Bay. After the colored powder ran out, everyone played a game of beach volleyball. According to some of the participants, the colors did not wash off in the ocean. I’m looking forward to seeing whether shampoo takes it out or if some of the med school students will have tie-dyed heads for a while.
My family loves celebrations and traditions. Growing up, we had many wonderful traditions leading up to Christmas– little gifts for Christmas countdown, paper chains, setting out a new nativity scene every day for two weeks, picking out a live tree, decorating parties. Of all the traditions of my childhood, one stands out in my mind as a particular favorite. Every Sunday for the month leading up to Christmas, my mom would cook a special dinner and my dad would lead us in Christmas advent devotions. My memories of this annual event are so vivid. I can almost smell the scent of burning wax and hear my dad’s voice reading from the book of Luke in the Bible. This year, we’re thousands of miles away from my parents, but we’re carrying on the Advent tradition in our own home.
The Advent candle tradition has been observed for centuries by Catholics and protestants alike. Traditionally, a wreath is constructed from evergreen boughs, laid flat on the table, and four candles are arranged in a circle on the wreath. One tall, white candle is set in the center. Each of the four Sundays before Christmas, a new candle is lit. On the first Sunday, one candle is lit, on the second, two are lit, and so on. On Christmas, all four candles on the wreath are lit, and finally the white candle is lit, as well. This candle is the Christ candle and it honors the birth of Jesus.
The four candles in the circle have no set meaning, although there are many different names and symbolisms given to the candles. Some call them the peace, hope, love, and joy candles. In my home growing up, they each represented a different group that announced the coming of Jesus. The first candle was the prophet candle, representing Old Testament prophets; the second was the angel candle, representing the angels that appeared to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds; the third was the shepherd candle; and the fourth was the wise men candle.
Generally, the lighting of the candle is accompanied by devotional and scripture reading. My dad would always read from an Advent devotional book and then choose portions of Scripture to accompany it.
The lighting of the Advent candles is not a religious ritual. It is simply a way to prepare our hearts and minds for the Christmas season. Like many people observe Lent to help themselves remember and focus on the approach of Easter, Advent devotions help us to remember that Christmas is coming and also remember why we celebrate Christmas at all. It’s a time to take a break from the distractions and busyness of life and take a few minutes to think about the meaning of Christmas. It’s easy to get caught up in the endless Walmart isles of toys and the explosion of red and green in Hobby Lobby, Pinterest and our news feeds. But the true reason we even have Christmas at all is that 2000 years ago, a baby boy was born in a cave in the Middle East, and He changed the world.
Now that’s something to celebrate.
In preparation for Advent Sunday, I bought some candles at the Chinese market next door– they didn’t have pink or purple candles, which are traditional, so I bought red, green, yellow and white instead. Oh, well. At least they look Christmassy! I went to a baby shower today and ended up with some bits of green ribbon, which look great tied around the candles. We don’t exactly have evergreen here, so my ribbon will suffice. Also, I think the circular formation of the candles must have some significance, but I don’t know what it is–anyway, it looked weird without a real wreath. I set them up in a line and they looked beautiful.
Ben found an Advent devotional on his Logos app on his phone. We sat down to dinner with Matt, I lit the candle, and Ben began to read.
The devotional he chose called the first candle the Shepherd Candle. It signifies the Lord’s guidance in our life as a shepherd. In many places in Scripture, God is called our shepherd. It seems like a weird metaphor to a society without a whole lot of shepherds (or sheep for that matter), but it was a very tangible comparison for Middle Eastern ancients. A shepherd watches vigilantly and lovingly over his sheep, and he protects them from harm and cares for them.
Here are some Bible references that talk about Jesus as a shepherd:
If you don’t have Advent plans for this evening, why not take a few moments to read these scripture passages? Whether or not you have an Advent wreath, candles, or even a Bible in print, you can celebrate the Christmas season by celebrating Jesus.
What are your favorite Christmas traditions? Or how does your family observe Advent?
Twirling skirts, bright eyes, steel drums and johnnycakes… this is Sint Maarten’s Day! Upon hearing about this holiday, my first question was whether the day celebrated the island’s heritage or the actual feast day of Saint Martin. As it turns out, it celebrates both. According to the story of the island’s earliest known history, Christopher Columbus stumbled upon our island paradise on November, 11, 1483–Saint Martin’s Feast Day– and named the island in honor of the day. Today, Saint Martin the man is more or less ignored, and the island people celebrate their heritage and homeland.
Ben and I had been looking forward to this day since we landed here because American University of the Caribbean gives its students Sint Maarten’s Day off classes. I was also looking forward to the day-long cultural celebration in Philipsburg, the capitol district. We took a bus in the early afternoon to join the throngs of people in the streets of the capitol. The air was absolutely electric with energy!
I immediately felt a little out of place– virtually everyone else was rocking red, white, and blue t-shirts; most of them even had patriotic designs! I was wearing a green skirt with a pink top. Oops. We went in search of Saint Maarten t-shirts. I could see that many of the stores in the shopping district were selling such apparel, but all the stores were closed, as per the law of the land. We finally found some in Festival Village, but all they had left were XXLs. “They run small,” offered the lady at the booth apologetically. I said no thanks, but bought a Sint Maarten flag.
Festival Village, a large, purple outdoor complex on Pond Island, was filled with shouts, laughter, bubbles, and flashing lights. The kids were having a heyday on the inflatable bouncers! Their parents enjoyed fried food and bottles of soda at gaily decorated food stands around the edge of the complex. Under a canopy, domino players determinedly focused on their annual tournament.
The schedule said the parade would start at 3:00, so we made our way through the streets, under the bunting-covered palm trees, to where the parade would begin. We waved at a recording drone that hovered overhead and watched the crowd fill up the streets.
The crowd thickened around us and began to build upward– people appeared in second-story windows, on balconies, and on their daddies’ shoulders. We smiled and greeted people we know as they pressed through the crowd to their favorite parade-watching spot.
Ten minutes passed, half an hour, fifty minutes, an hour. Finally, we heard the sound of steel drums and dancing feet. True to Sint Maarten, the parade started on “island time.” Nobody seemed bothered. We crowded closer together and strained to catch a glimpse of the first dancers.
Sint Maarten is home to people of many heritages, so cultural St. Maarten dance is diverse. My favorite were the women in hoop skirts who twirled and whirled down the street. Click on the thumbnails below to get a better look at the photos. So much color, so much movement! The women danced to the rhythm of the drumbeats that filled the streets and echoed off the buildings.
People of all ability levels participated in the parade
Women dancing in cultural dress
Dancing with a hoop skirt
Miss St. Maarten and her amazing skirt
Women dancing in cultural dress
Fruit market queen
Dancing man in cultural dress
We loved the drums! I couldn’t help but dance a little myself. The whole crowd swayed and pulsed with the beat of the drums. The Jolly Boys, a local band, played their calypso beats as they drifted by on a float.
Steel drum band
The drums were awesome
Band on a float
What’s a parade without the smiles of children? There were dozens and dozens of kids in the parade– some dancing in patriotic tulle dresses, some dressed in historical garb holding their mothers’ hands, some waving like princesses and others peeking through windows.
smiling “market” girl
Kids in straw hats
Steel drum band
Cute kid in the parade
Cute girl in the parade
Boys dressed as salt pickers
The car enthusiasts also contributed to the parade. This taxi is a little spiffier than the ones you usually see on the roads, but it still has the typical giant front-window sticker.
Unofficial motocycle parade
Da Party Bus!
This is my friend Lisa. She marched in the parade wearing cultural dress. The cultural clothing was probably the most visually interesting part of the celebration. There were clothes from every era in every style, from the drab and dirty slacks of the salt pickers to the Princess Julianna dress with a hoop skirt the size of New Jersey. I was excited to see professors from Ben’s school, American University of the Caribbean, representing the school and rocking salt picker hats!
American University of the Caribbean professors dressed as salt pickers
Flag monument float
Princess Julianna dress
Women dressed as colonial gentry
Women dressed in cultural dress with baskets on their heads
Dutch house float
I was amazed at the stilt-walkers! The parade lasted about an hour and a half, and these people walked on stilts the whole time. That takes some serious skill. There were probably fifteen of these– I wonder who made the clothes for them? Equally as cool were the living statues. They looked so real! I’m not sure, but I think they were based on some of the statues on Sint Maarten’s round-a-bouts. This side of the island has more round-a-bouts than intersections, and each one has a statue with local significance.
As the sun began to sink, the parade marched to its final destination– Festival Village. Tired dancers and sweaty but happy walkers disbanded and began to enjoy the celebrations for themselves.
Happy Sint Maarten’s Day, everyone! What a wonderful way to celebrate our island home.
As the sun begins to set on a small waterfront resort, people of all ethnicities trickle into the courtyard. One by one, candles and lights begin to illuminate the surroundings. As the courtyard fills, the aromatic scent of curry begins to grace the air. It is the second night of Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights.
This is the West Indies, not India. Yet even here in the Western hemisphere, we are eager to celebrate the triumph of good over evil– and, of course, what promises to be the apex of human culinary achievement.
Someone announces that the food is ready, and we all line up, plates ready. The menu consists of rice, banir (vegetarian red sauce), chicken tika masala (red sauce with meat), yogurt sauce to cool our mouths after the spice, naan (Indian flat-bread), and samosas (fried dumplings filled with potatoes and peas). We find a group to sit with and dig in. It’s as delicious as it smells!
The group we sit with is comprised of people who were born in India or raised in Indian homes. The conversation quickly turns to Indian culture and geography as people discuss and compare their location of origin, lingual heritage, and family traditions. I take the opportunity to ask questions and learn about the diverse and colorful nation of India.
A university student explains to me the origin and traditions centered around Diwali. Diwali is a traditional Hindu festival lasting five days. On the first day of Diwali, people hope for wealth and prosperity. The second day of Diwali celebrates the triumph of light over dark, good over evil. The third day is the actual day of Diwali, the Indian new year’s eve. The fourth day, the new year, celebrates love and devotion between husbands and wives. The final day is a celebration of sisters. Siblings honor one another and exchange gifts on this day.
The night grows blacker and sparklers are lit, illuminating the party scene. Indian pop music wraps us all in an exotic sheath of sound. Children dance and spin in the candle light. People migrate from tables to the bar and the dance floor.
Before long, the deck is crowded with smiling and laughing dancers. The sky is black, but for us, the darkest night of the year is bright and joyous.