Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Dominican Christmas Traditions

You think you know most there is to know about the Dominican Republic and its customs and then something new appears.

That is what happened at 4am this morning.

I am in the middle of a beautiful sleep, snuggled under my two quilts as it is a tad chilly in the mountains now, with just the odd rooster thinking it was dawn and crowing and suddenly there was this appalling noise from the road and the house in front of us. Shouting and singing and music and banging of drums. Our dogs started barking like crazy.
“Danilo, what is going on?” I asked. “What on earth is all that noise in the middle of the night? Is someone dead?”
“Los aguinaldos,” he grunted and went back to sleep.
“Los whatdos?”
There was no way I was getting out of bed to look the word up in a dictionary so I lay there and listened to them singing in Spanish. Excuse the spelling, those of you who understand it.

“Si no te levanta, ni abrí la puerta.
Yo será aquí cantando hasta que amanezca.
Allá entra veo, allá entra veo
Un bulto tapado y yo toy pensando
Que un puerco asado”

Which means in English:

“If you don't get up nor open the door
I will be here singing until you wake up.
Over there I can see, over there I can see (looking through the window)
A bag all closed up and I am thinking
That it has a roast pig in it”

As I lay there listening to this, over and over again, I thought “What burglars would sing outside a house that they wanted to nick a dead pig?”

Eventually, after about 30 minutes they moved off but I could hear them all the way down the road singing the same song and banging on the drums.

In the morning, all was explained. It was los aguinaldos which actually means Christmas bonus and is a tradition, especially in the countryside. Groups of people get up before dawn and go round the neighbourhood banging on doors, playing music and singing the very same song. You are supposed to get up and give them ginger tea and biscuits.

There is a YouTube video of the music here but I couldn’t find one of them banging on the doors. Mind you I have no idea what the old lady is doing in the video.

They didn’t come to our house as they were scared of the dogs. Oh dear what a shame, as I would have loved to have been woken up at 4 am and have to make ginger tea and biscuits.

I suppose it is like the British carol singing tradition but not quite the same as angelic children singing Christmas carols in the early evening. At least in the UK they don't look through your window spotting dead pigs in bags.

And now I have just had another custom explained. We are supposed to clean the whole house, wash it all out and mop it and then paint it before Christmas and burn all our old clothes and get new ones. We have to put all our old brushes and mops and brooms out at the corner of the street and buy new ones. Again I think not – I can feel this gringa is going to get a reputation as being a tad bolshie!


  1. Lindsay...that's a darling story! Jaja...I literally laughed out loud! Burn your old clothes? My old clothes seem to be my favorite! Wishing you a restful day.

    1. I love my old ones too so no way am I doing that!

  2. What? I was born and raised in the DR and never heard anything about burning your clothes and buying new ones (are you sure they are not 'pulling your leg'?) I do remember, as a child, my parents buying a new outfit for each one of us kids to wear on January 1st (all my friends in the neighborhood did, too). The cleaning of the house is traditional, too, that way one starts the new year with room for all the good things it will bring you. If you can afford it, this is the time to paint the house and the facade. In the aguinaldos I remember the songs were accompanied by guira, tambora and cencerro. Something that we didn't have back then, but ubiquitous now, is the LOUD firecrackers detonated inside metal drums. One can die of a heart attack after being startled by one those. Feliz Navidad y un prospero 2014!!!

    1. Thanks for the info and Feliz Navidad to you too.

  3. I am a Dominican, the cleaning of the house and throwing away all things OLD or BROKEN is a tradition for New Years Eve that arrived with the Chinese !, but the Jewish also have that tradition of Cleaning House from everything that is Leavening (to commemorate their liberation from the Bond in Egypt = EXODUS) , the Tea and the Ginger are also very Chinese !! .. somewhere in time it was mixed with ´Caroling´ and time was changed from Night to Early Morning ! It is not logical. And..., those old cloth is now given to the poor (Hand-me-downs).. The tradition of the ´Aguinaldos´ is to bring neighbors then the community together - as fall as you can go ! - making the group bigger and bigger and finishing at the most richest of the families in the town - who then will invite them (maybe) for that PIG IN THE STICK or at least give them some money to spend on a decent XMAS Meal ! - this will be more in the line of Halloween and their Treat or Trick !! hehehe --- excuses and traditions from all over the world mixed in the D.R. like our SANCOCHO !!!

  4. I think I like the aguinaldo tradition better in Mexico where we would receive 2 weeks bonus pay at Christmas from our employer.

    1. In the DR we call that extra pay 'regalia' .

  5. hahahaha this is really funny! When I lived in the DR, granted it was for a short time people never really came to our house but my aunt would have us walk down to her house singing that same song and 'Good Morning ah come for my guavaberry' (We are Cocolos). That other tradition about throwing out everything and cleaning the house top to bottom never heard of it. Must be a country side tradition.

    Hope you and your family have a Merry Christmas.