Christmas in Suriname

by Bill Egan, Christmas Historian

Suriname is located in the northern part of South America, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between French Guiana and Guyana. It is directly north of Brazil.

Until 1975, Suriname was a colony of The Netherlands and therefore the Christmas traditions were similar in both nations. The highlight of the pre-Christmas season would be the arrival of St. Nicholas on December 5th, the eve of his birthday. Just as in Holland, St. Nicholas was an elderly Caucasian man who arrived by ship, with a white horse and a retinue of Black servants. After Surname won its independence, St. Nicholas suddenly changed into a Black man and his new name was Goedoe Pa or Dearest Daddy. His servants remained Black. Meanwhile, instead of leaving hay and carrots in their shoes for St. Nicholas' horse, children in Suriname would put out cookies and milk for Goedoe Pa and his servants who would be busy delivering gifts throughout the country. The presents are found next to the children's shoes in the morning of December 6th, with poems attached to the gifts.

The Christmas celebration is unlike Holland and resembles the more elaborate festivities in the United States with gifts, special food and parties. The observance goes on for two days, December 25th which is Christmas Day and December 26th, known as Tweede Kerstdag. Both days are national holidays with offices, factories and schools closed.

The main emphasis of the holiday is the birth of the Christchild. Families attend church services on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. After church, they enjoy opening gifts at home and there is an "open house" for friends and neighbors throughout the day and into the next. Beautifully decorated Christmas trees are part of almost every Suriname household and you'll always find elaborately prepared ethnic foods.

Song: Island Joy

2002 by W. C. Egan

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