Christmas traditions in the Cayman Islands are as varied as the people who live here. From beach parties to visiting the spectacular light displays at private homes and the wonderful parties... there is something to do for all ages. Indulge in our wondrous selection of heavy cakes, Christmas beef and sorrel.
Long ago Christmas in Cayman was joyfully celebrated as the most festive time of the year. Christmas was the time of awakening for the islands. At Christmas time everyone came alive and the Islands became vibrant with colours.
Christmas was also the time of year when everyone came home. You see the Cayman Islands boasts a strong sea fearing Heritage. Many of the men left the islands once they were in their late teens in order to work with various shipping companies; it was there way of making a living. So when it was Christmas the families of the Cayman Islands became very anticipated as they looked forward to the return of the seamen. This added to how special the Christmas season was.
The most remembered and most revered Christmas tradition is that of the Sand Yard. As many others in the world dream about a white Christmas, people in the Cayman Islands also liked a white Christmas. Of course not possible with snow as we are located in the tropics, but a white Christmas in Cayman meant snow-white sand yards. From as early as late October the women and children started gathering large amounts of sand from the beaches.
Many Caymanians still remember ‘backing sand’ (carrying it) from the beach on moonlit nights. The sand would then be brought back to the yard and put in even piles. On Christmas Eve morning the piles of sand would be swept across the yard making it absolutely white. The newly swept sand was not allowed to be walked on until Christmas day, as it was a special part of the season. A path of gravel would be laid from the gate to the front door, lined with conch shells to keep the gravel together; this would be used as the footpath to the house. Each year the preparing of the sand yard stood as a competition to see who would have the whitest and prettiest sand yard on island.
The white sand yard is a beautiful tradition that you can still see today, many of the old Caymanian houses that are found on the island still have white sand yards.
Another special event took place in Cayman at Christmas that added to the excitement of the season. Christmas concerts, all the churches on the islands organized concerts that the children would take part in. At the concerts the children would recite Christmas poems, which they had memorized. It was a time for much excitement as this was also the occasion for new clothes, hats and shoes.
The main focus of Christmas was centered on the church. Coming from a strong Christian background, first thing Christmas morning in the Cayman Islands there were church services. Everyone attended church where there was always a special service to be heard.
How Modern Traditions were practiced in Old CaymanChristmas Trees
The first family in Grand Cayman to have a modern Christmas tree was Mrs. Ella Latters’ family. She recalls “my father James Hurlston worked for Moravian Missionaries from Germany in Nicaragua. They believed a lot in trees and decorations. The missionaries ordered their Christmas trees from Germany each year and we would get ours in the same lot. So when we lived in Nicaragua we had a real pine tree. In Grand Cayman Dad would find a suitable tree and decorate that”.Decorations
Decorations for the Christmas trees came about in quite an interesting way; no decorations were sold on the island for modern trees, as many of the Caymanian people did not know about trees. So therefore decorations were hand made, as Miss Aarona Booker Kohlman remembers, “My family used the pinecones from the casuarina trees to make decorations. The pinecones were covered in different coloured foil and hung on the tree as ornaments”.
Houses were decorated with a Christmas blossom that can be found here on the island. The blossom only blooms around December, it is a tiny red flower. It was used to add color to the house, they were put in all corners of the house.Santa Claus
Santa made his first appearance in Cayman around 1901, the seamen brought the tradition home from their travels. The children would look and wait for him all day and all night till they fell asleep. Children would also place special stockings at the foot of their parents’ bed (because they had no fireplace). The stockings would be filled with all sorts of goodies like candy, apples, fans, fire rockets etc. when the children woke up in the morning.
Eating was also a big part of Christmas. As this was the time of the year that food, which could not be afforded year round, were bought as presents to the family. For instance Christmas was the only time of the year that many families on island had beef. Beef was regularly too expensive but families would save money so that at Christmas beef could be a part of Christmas dinner. For Christmas dinner there was an abundance of food. Miss Ella Latter notes, “ I don’t know where we found room for all that food to go, but it could never look like Christmas without it”. Cakes were just as important as getting beef for Christmas. There were heavy cakes and light cakes galore. The aim of the season was to please the palate with as much delights as possible.
A very unique and special part of the Christmas food tradition was that for the children. Parents and children would build a little hut out of thatch in the yard, the little hut would be the children’s’ Christmas house where they would cook and bake things of their own, just like their mom would in her kitchen. The kids looked forward every year to having their own little hut for their festivities.Recipe for SorrelProvided by Joslin Marshall
1 c. dried sorrel
2 c. sugar (optional)
1 sm. piece ginger, crushed
6 c. boiling water
Wash sorrel, place in large bowl with ginger, and cloves. Add boiling water, let steep overnight. Strain, add sugar (if desired), and pour into glass bottles. Refrigerate and serve.
Baked Pearl Tapioca Pudding Provided by Marion ‘Cassie’ Puya
Pudding & Meringue::
6 cups water
1 cup large Pearl Tapioca
5 egg whites (beaten stiff)
3 cups 2% evaporated milk
Sugar (about 1 cup)
3 cups whole milk
1 tsp. cream of tartar
5 eggs, separated
½ tsp. salt.
1 cup sugar (more can be added if desired)
2 tsp. vanilla
- Soak tapioca in water overnight.
- Next day drain water from tapioca and put tapioca in a pot.
- Add milks and salt and bring to a low boil stirring often not to burn the mixture. Simmer approximately 20 minutes.
- Add sugar slowly stirring and simmer for another 5 minutes.
- Beat egg yolks in a bowl, (reserving the egg whites for the meringue) Gradually add a small amount of the tapioca mixture to the beaten eggs, stirring until blended.
- Pour the egg mixture into the rest of the tapioca. Add vanilla and stir.
- Pour into a 9x13 baking dish being careful not to fill container any higher than about ¾ full, as sometimes it will boil over when baking.
- Put baking dish into a large baking pan and add water to the pan. Bake at 350 degrees until knife comes out clean. Top maybe slightly brown. Remove dish from pan and cool.
Beat egg whites until stiff, gradually add sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form , then add cream of tartar if desired. Pour over tapioca mixture and bake in 450 degree oven for approximately 3 to 5 minutes or until a nice brown.Recipe for Cassava (Heavy) Cake Provided by Ann-Rose Washburn (nee Bodden)
3 lbs grated cassava 2 lbs light brown sugar
2 - 14oz cans coconut milk – wash cash out with a little water
2 tablespoons vanilla essence
1 teaspoon Cayman Sea Salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ tea cloves
1 stick of margarine or butter
4 heaping teaspoons cornstarch diluted in a little water
- In large mixing bowl add cassava and stir in coconut milk and vanilla. Then brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Stir well.
- In small covered container add corn starch and just enough water to dissolve. Shake. Then add to contents already in bowl.
- Now add melted margarine or butter. Stir well.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter glass baking pan and pour in the above mixture in pan. Bake for at 350 degrees for about an hour or until a firm golden brown is achieved.
Fruit CakeProvided by Paula Cribb
1 pkg fruit cake mix
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup seedless raisins
2 cups self-rising flour
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
5 eggs or equiv eggbeaters
1/2 cup evaporated milk or skim milk
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Cake wine to suit taste
1 cup halved cherries
1 cup brandy and rum mincemeat
Ms. Rose's Traditional Cayman Peppermint CandyProvided by Rose Myles
- Cream butter and sugar together, add eggs and mix well.
- Add fruit, nuts, raisins, cherries, mincemeat, wine and milk.
- Sift together flour and nutmeg and fold into first mixture. Mix thoroughly.
- Bake at 275 in well greased and floured pan for 3 hours or until done. Insert tooth pick in center of cake to test for doneness.
- After baking, sprinkle with cake wine. Optional-mix Dixie Crystals sugar and cream and butter until smooth for icing.
8 oz. of water
5 lb package of sugar
8-9 drops of lime
- Boil sugar, water and lime in a pot for one hour then pour into a greased baking pan. Make sure you have water in a bath pan and then set the baking pan in the bath pan to make the mixture cool so it can be handled.
- After it has cooled the mixture is "pulled" traditionally on a nail. The "pulling" of peppermint candy is similar to pulling taffy. The mixture is stretched by hand and long strands of peppermint candy are then cut into small pieces of candy. You wait for it to turn white then bore a hole into the mixture and put 3-4 drops of peppermint oil - continue to "pull" the mixture over the nail for 10-15 minutes to allow the peppermint oil to fully mix through.
- Then take it off the nail and lay it out on a floured surface (to avoid sticking) and cut into pieces.