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Explaining the Evergrowing Tradition of “Chanté Nwèl” (Singing Christmas) in the French West Indies

Between late November and December 25, a unique tradition is taking place every year in the Francophone Caribbean islands, especially in Martinique and Guadeloupe. “Chanté Nwel” [fr] is a time when people come together to not only sing traditional Christmas songs but also share a meal as a community. Although the tradition of singing Christmas carols has slowed down in France, it has grown stronger than ever in the french west indies [fr]. Hélène Clément explains the sad origin of the tradition that has been turned into a festive celebration [fr] :

L’article 2 du Code noir promulgué par Louis XIV en 1685 prévoyait « l’instruction religieuse des esclaves ». Les jésuites, chargés de poursuivre cette instruction religieuse, enseigneront aux esclaves à jouer de certains instruments dans le but de former des choristes pour les offices religieux [..] Le « chanté Nwèl » dans les Antilles françaises reste un moment de partage et de solidarité.

The article 2 of the Code Noir [Black Code] promulgated by Louis XIV in 1685 stipulated that “religious instruction be provided to slaves.” The Jesuits taught slaves through the religious instruction to play some instruments in order to assemble a choir for religious services [..] The “Chanté Nwèl” in the French West Indies is first and foremost a time of sharing and solidarity

Here is a video of one of the most known carol :Joseph mon cher fidèle (Joseph, my dear faithful) [fr]:

Daniel, from Martinique, explains the drinking tradition during “Chanté Nwèl” [fr]:

Autrefois, lors des ces « chanté Nwel», on servait en dehors du traditionnel punch, du sirop d’orgeat aux dames, ainsi que du chocolat à l’eau épaissi au toloman pour se réchauffer du « froid piquant » des nuits de décembre… dès la fin du mois de novembre, on prépare le  schrubb avec des écorces d’oranges que l’on fait macérer dans du rhum au soleil.

Back in the days during “Chanté Nwèl”, the traditional cocktail punch and chocolate water thickened with toloman were served to warm the “sneaky cold” December nights; orgeat syrup were reserved for the ladies … at the end of November, the schrubb is prepared with orange peels that has been soaked in rum and exposed to the sun. 

 The following video shows how residents of Gros-Morne, Martinique are celebrating the tradition today [fr]:

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