Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ — who was born in Bethlehem, lived a divine life, died by crucifixion, and miraculously rose from the grave. However, in Haiti it is widely celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike as a holiday with non-religious aspects. Some of the secular activities have become extremely popular in Haiti.
In the beginning of December, it is a tradition that Haitians cut pine branches to serve as Christmas trees or go to the market and get freshly cut trees brought from the mountains. They decorate them with bright ornaments, and at the base add a large nativity scene, which could occupy a large part of their living room. This is also a practice used by institutions, organizations and churches as well.
To make the decorations last longer, Haitians buy artificial Christmas trees with bright ornaments and decorate the front view of compounds with multicolor lights and animation.
The streets are also busy with people buying new things for themselves and for their homes. The stores offer bargain prices for their products. Homes are being fixed, freshly painted and the smells of new cloth, wood polish and varnish remain in the air.
On Christmas Eve, children place their shoes, nicely cleaned up and filled with straw, on the porch or under the Christmas tree. Tonton Nwèl (Santa Claus) is expected to remove the straw and put presents in and around the shoes.
Christmas Day is a day with a lot of eating and drinking, singing and playing with the toys brought by Tonton Nwèl in the middle of the night. The children might also play with fireworks that they mostly made themselves from chemicals bought in stores.
All houses in the neighborhood are open with all lights on until about three o’clock in the morning. Some people go to midnight Mass. Others go out in the neighborhood in groups, caroling.
Parents generally give their children complete freedom on this night and generally do not know or inquire where the children go. The older children are in charge.
Children of practically all ages are allowed to drink anisette on Christmas Eve. Anisette is a mild alcoholic beverage prepared by soaking “anise” leaves in rum and sweetening it with sugar.
Those who go to midnight Mass return home to enjoy the meals of the “reveillon.” The word “reveillon” is French for a Christmas or New Year’s Eve supper and comes from the verb meaning “to wake up.” The occasion is, however, more a breakfast than a supper. It begins very early in the morning and often lasts nearly till dawn.
In Haiti, the big event of Christmas happens on December 24th, which is a very busy day. December 25th, which is the official Christmas Day, is usually quiet because people — especially children and youth — wake up late as they stayed awake overnight to have fun on Christmas Eve.
To make the Christmas season special for impoverished children, Compassion child development centers, early in December, usually mobilize their resources to see the best way to celebrate with their children.
The centers hold big events where children come to perform, receive surprises and be fed as well. The Christmas events held by the centers are usually what make Christmas unforgettable for such children, who would not have the chance to receive gifts at home or even be in an environment where they would feel special at this time of the year.
Furthermore, as Compassion is about education, tutors in club activities take time to explain to the children the meaning of Christmas and how it is worth celebrating. They teach them Christmas carols like “Emmanuel” and “Away in a Manger,” which they take pleasure to sing together.
As a result, many children have also confessed Jesus Christ as the Savior of their lives in this special time of the year. They realize how much God loves them by sending His only son, Jesus Christ, on earth to show the world the way to salvation.
Like children from the middle class, children in the Compassion program — who usually come from very poor families — look forward to Christmas time every year. They feel they are not different from other children whose parents can afford to buy toys, new clothes and shoes as Christmas gifts for them.
It is a season they feel loved, a season where they can receive new clothes they can wear to join other children in the neighborhood or go to a park for fun or visit some relatives.