Tobago’s Christmas differs from Trinidad’s
By Janelle De Souza, Newsday News, Sunday, December 16th 2007

“There are only one or two differences between Christmas in Trinidad and Christmas in Tobago,” said Tobagonian Lorna Douglas, fondly known as Miss Lorna. However, upon further discussion with Miss Lorna, I came to realise that the few differences involved were major ones.

For instance, parang is not yet popular in Tobago.

“We’re now getting into parang because the Tobago House of Assembly is bringing over parang bands as free entertainment for villagers on weekends,” said Lorna. No parang? No. No ‘chac-chac’, tambourines and no badly pronounced Spanish lyrics.

Tobago’s Christmas is not bereft of seasonal music however. From the week before Christmas, groups of musicians go from house to house playing the bottle and spoon, cuatro and guitar. singing old Christmas calypsos and hoping to be fed ham and other seasonal treats — just like paranderos. Village and church choirs also go from door to door singing traditional Christmas carols and collecting donations for various church groups and charities.

While pastelle is staple in Trinidad’s Christmas, it is not so in Tobago. You can probably find them if you look hard enough but these delicious meat-filled cornmeal delicacies are rare in the sister isle. Instead, Tobagonians enjoy paime (or paimee, paimie — however you wish to spell it). This is similar to pastelles but without the meat filling.

Lorna explained that long ago, fresh corn would be grated to make this tasty dish but this is no longer the case. Ingredients include cornmeal, coconut milk, spices (nutmeg, clove powder and cinnamon), sugar, raisins and pumpkin (grated or steamed and mashed) to “make the paime tight.” It is then flattened and wrapped in leaves Tobagonians call “paime bush” which was described to me as resembling the balisier leaf but more round in shape.

As is the case in Trinidad, everyone in the village prepares for Christmas by cleaning up, painting their homes, baking black cake and coconut sweet bread and making sorrel, ponche de creme and ginger beer. However, as Lorna explained, they use creole ginger which is smaller than the ginger used in Trinidad and much spicier. She said creole ginger more closely resembles the ginger found in Toco.

Another Tobago tradition is homemade “heavy bread.” Yeast and flour are mixed together to form a batter called leaven. This is left to rise. Separately, flour, salt, sugar, butter and shortening are mixed and a hole is made in the middle of this “dough”. The leaven is placed in the hole and the two mixtures are kneaded together with coconut milk. It is important not to put too much pressure when kneading.

Flour the surface of the dough and leave it to rise for approximately half an hour. Cut the dough into pieces, roll each in flour and leave to rise again. Bake in a dirt oven on a banana leaf and cover with another leaf. For those of us without a dirt oven, Lorna’s instruction is that you grease a baking pan, place the leaves on the pan and continue “but make sure to put a leaf on top too”.

“It’s a tradition to bake in a dirt oven,” Lorna explained. “If you didn’t have one, you’d pack everything up in a bucket and go by a neighbour or nearby family member to use theirs. I’m from Roxborough and in the country we do things differently from the folks in the city.

“They’re more commercialised. It’s just that the smoke from the wood and the bush has an odour that gives the bread and cakes a different taste.”

Lorna also told Newsday that on Christmas Eve, a pork soup is made while putting the final touches to the Christmas decorations and preparations. Also, in Tobago most people rear goats, sheep, chickens, pigs or cows. At Christmas, villagers would slaughter a cow or goat and share the meat among family and close friends.

“In this way everyone will have a portion of beef, pork and mutton. But most of the time, after Christmas, everyone will get tired of meat and eat fish,” she laughed.

While there are “a few” differences between Trinidad’s and Tobago’s Christmases, one thing remains the same — Christmas is about family, friends, love, joy . . . and food.

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Tobago’s Christmas differs from Trinidad’s Tobago’s Christmas differs from Trinidad’s