Santa Leading Parade to The BottomToday was a big Christmas celebration on Saba! Santa flew in on Winair (the tiny planes that land in the Saba airport) to see the island children. Everyone met Santa at the airport – he came out in full regalia (yes, even in 80 degrees, Santa wears his full red & white winter suit), ringing his bell and ho-ho-ho-ing.

Santa arrives by Plane on Saba Cottage Caretakers & Grandkids Santa Arrives! Santa on Float - Welcome to Saba!

The children were ecstatic as Santa and his helpers threw candy out to them. He was led to a “throne” on a float. All of the spectators joined a band, complete with maracas and steel pan drum, to sing Christmas carols. Things really got jumping when my favorite Caribbean Christmas song came up – “Mama Make Your Johnny Cakes, Christmas Comin’!” This is an upbeat song and you really have to pay attention to hear the words. I didn’t get them all, but I did do a little searching on the internet to find the origin of the song. The song is pure “Junkanoo” – which apparently has become popular in the Carolinas as well – and for good reason, it’s fun music! Here is some information, if you’re curious:

Junkanoo, a hybrid of Afro-Bahamian music and dance, began with the slaves who were given three days off at Christmas. In the early days, it involved groups of grotesquely masked dancers and musicians traveling from house to house, often on stilts. In one form or another, the practice became popular in the Carolinas, Jamaica, British Honduras (now Belize) and The Bahamas.

No one knows for sure where the Bahamian name for this practice came from. Some accredit it to the celebrated African trader-prince John Conuu, or John Conny, who commanded the Brandenberg trading fort on the Gold Coast of Ghana in the early 18th century. Others say it came from the French phrase “gens inconnus,” meaning unknown people. Yet others believe it is a corruption of the West African name Jananin Canno, derived from a combination of the Quojas tribe’s Canno, a supreme being who controlled the activities of the tribe, and Janani, spirits seen as patrons or defenders of the tribe.

Steel Pan Man

Johnny Cakes are bagel-sized biscuits, usually fried, that are made all over the Caribbean. Legend has it that the name derives from “journey cake”, meaning a bread that could be cooked ahead when going out to work or on a journey. In any case, there are as many recipes for Johnny Cake as there are cooks in the Islands, ranging in style from something like hard-tack to something more like a donut.

Santa Leading Parade to The Bottom Joel's Ready To Swim

The Santa Parade & Our Tide Pool Adventure
After all of the singing, Santa was driven to the opposite side of the island with all of the spectators following in a type of “parade” of cars. Some people chose to stay on the road in various spots to see the spectacle as the parade went up the mountain and down to the opposite side of the island to “The Bottom.” At The Bottom, Santa gave all children from 1 – 10 their Christmas presents. This is no dime-store Santa – the presents are very expensive and nice, from what we’ve heard. The Lions Club raises quite a bit of money for this event and it is important to them to give the kids special gifts.

Heather Guards Tidepools Joel Snacking After Swim

Since Joel and I are above the age limit for gifts, we chose to go to the Flat Point Tide Pools, right near the airport. The tide pools are very cool – you have to hike across small crevices in volcano rock to get to these enclosed pools. The rock is “unforgiving” as Joel says, so we were careful not to slip and fall during our explorations. It was a really cool experience, especially for people who like to explore. This is one section of Saba that not everyone gets to see – you feel like you are in another world. The ocean was furious and waves were crashing madly against the rock, filling the pools with foam and sending the crabs scurrying. We got drenched and decided we might as well give in and swim.

Instead of getting carried away by the waves, we went to the “baby pools,” which are protected from the ocean waves. Here you can float or wade, since it’s not very deep. If you have a mask & snorkel, you can just stare for hours at the baby fish – you can see a wide variety of amazing juveniles here. We tried our best to act like juveniles ourselves as we swam in the pools and basked in the fact that we could do this every weekend if we wanted.

The Long Walk Home
We walked uphill for an hour to get home (hmmm, this sounds kind of like how my grandparents walked to school every day – uphill both ways!). True to the friendly Saban nature, no less than four people stopped to ask us if we wanted a ride. The locals often shake their heads at us because they can’t believe we’d actually want to do this strenuous walk home. Expats tend to understand – saying that they always want to do it, but never actually take the time. Hitch hiking in Saba is still done and it’s very safe. It is the transportation of choice for anyone sans vehicle. Most Sabans have trucks, so you just hop in the back and jump out at your destination. It doesn’t matter if you know them or not – they are happy to give you a lift. Just another thing to love about Saba!

Caribbean Music Samples – Including Some Junkanoo
For those who want a flavor of the sounds, this website has some samples:
Women, if you want to have some fun, close your office door or put on your headphones and play “Women Dey Smarter” by Funky D. This is Bahamian music, but many of the same tunes are played in Saba and other islands. And for anyone who wants to get into a good mood, play “Stick & Move” by Nita.