I can hear the music as we approach, the crowd gathering on the street and filtering into the courtyard behind the Vauclin middle school. It’s dark out, a little after nine, but the lights and the music show the way.
The beat rumbles loudly over the speakers. The man beats his bamboo drum, a feature of much Caribbean music, another shakes his maraca, and the background singers in their vibrant dresses sway in the Martinican breeze. The scent of poulet boucané—barbeque chicken—fills the air. People sing loudly. They tap their feet and shake their hips. They laugh and smile and kiss on both cheeks.
A man in what sort of resembled a white zoot suit shakes his hips and sings loudly into the microphone. This is the leader—the lead singer—and he is singing…Christmas carols?
Yes, Christmas carols. Not any that I would ever recognize, because the Caribbean beat sways in these songs and transforms them into something utterly unrecognizable, but Christmas carols nonetheless.
When Sylvie told me that after Toussaint people start decorating for Christmas, I was shocked. “But it’s not even Thanksgiving,” I said. And quickly realized how ridiculous it was to use a holiday marker that Martinicans don’t even celebrate. No, in France and Martinique, the day when stores can begin selling toys and Santa hats and anything else that will make them a little money is not the day after Thanksgiving: it’s the day after Toussaint.
Which is why, even though Martinique is about fifty degrees too warm for me to feel like it’s getting close to Christmas and even though it’s not even Thanksgiving, I went Christmas caroling on Saturday night. From here on out, every Sunday the carolers will move from one city to the next singing songs. A small town that most tourists will never visit, Vauclin is known for its Christmas carolers. Every year, the Christmas carolers begin their season in Vauclin, which makes it a great place to see the celebration.
“Tout le monde,” the leader sings out, and the audience responds with more energy, singing its heart out. Everyone has brought little green books that read “An nou chanté Noël” and have the lyrics to all of the carols.
The whole town seems to be gathered in this square tonight. People are drinking and the smell of rum replaces the smell of grilled chicken as the night wears on. Little babies are sound asleep despite the pumping music and the parents dance on. Around midnight, the concert comes to an end, and everyone begins to leave, exhausted. It may not be cold, and I’ve never been more certain that I won’t be having a white Christmas, but little by little it’s beginning to feel like Christmas is near.