Horse racing’s history dates back thousands of years to the domestication of the horse by the people of Central Asia. The sport consisting of horses with rider racing round a track, was adopted throughout the world and was christened the sport of Kings when King James 1st of England made it his pastime of choice.
Horse racing was introduced to Belize in the 1920s. At that time there were 2 major horse races. The Dewars Cup, named because of its sponsor, took place on Boxing Day, December 26th. The other race took place on 1st January. Some horses were imported from Jamaica, others were the Belizean bred family pony. People gathered for a bit of fun, to race their horse and of course to drink, bet and hopefully make a bit of cash.
Today there are several stables in Belize that breed horses but horse racing hasn’t changed much. Unlike the rest of the world it is relatively small scale and Horse breeders and owners come from all walks of life. There are now 3 race courses, Castleton Race Track in Burrell Boom, The Benny Padron Race track in San Felipe Village, Orange Walk and the Peoples Stadium in Orange Walk, which also acts as a football pitch and sports stadium. The terrain is grass, the type of race for those who know their horse racing terms, flat. Race meetings take place most months throughout the year at one of these three tracks. The Belize Triple Crown Challenge which takes place in April/May consists of 3 races, The Castleton Derby at Castleton race track, the San Felipe Stakes at the Benny Padron Race track and the Old Masters Stakes at the Peoples Stadium race track. This race series is open to three year old thoroughbreds from Belize. This year the horse Padrino made history by winning all three races.
If you are here for the Christmas vacations and are interested in seeing horse racing Belizean style, Castleton Races still take place on 26th December. Its no longer called the Dewars Cup but it is still the Sport of Kings.
Belize is a veritable melting pot of different races and cultures. At no time of the year is this more visible than at Christmas. Whilst the decorating of Christmas trees, lights and giving of presents is a countrywide occurrence, other traditions handed down from one culture and generation to another have been adopted, diluted and adapted over the years.
Amongst all Belizeans, Christmas is a time to clean house. In preparation for expected or unexpected family and friends, the house is tidied, new curtains hung and often new flooring laid. Albert Street in Belize City was traditionally the place to shop for new material, decorations and tiles. Today most towns stock these products.
In most major towns of each area the season kicks off with the lighting of the town Christmas tree in the town square, an event often accompanied by carol singing and other celebrations. Already by this stage most shops have already put up their Christmas decorations and Christmas music in both Spanish,English and reggae versions can be heard belting merrily through the streets.
On Ambergris Caye, one of the highlights of Christmas is The lighted boat parade which usually takes place on the first Saturday of December. This is a beautiful sight to behold as the local community pull together and an array of fishing boats, catamarans, tour boats, water taxis and barges take to the water lit up with Christmas lights and parade from north to south of the island. It’s a great opportunity to grab a beachside seat in one of the many restaurants and bars and enjoy this festive seaside tradition.
In Dangriga in Southern Belize there is a strong Garifuna community and on Christmas afternoon it is traditional to watch or indeed take part in the Joncunu a colorful masquerade dance. The performance is an imitation of the European slave masters as seen by the pink painted masks that the dancers wear and the white shirts and often skirts which parody Scottish kilts that the British used to wear. The dance is often accompanied by garifuna drumming.
Another grand tradition of Dangriga is The Grand Ball, an occasion which dates back to 1914 where dancers performed traditional ballroom dance steps such as the Fox Trot, Quadrille and the Waltz. This event continues today every Christmas and New Year’s Eve, largely attended by an older crowd.
Las Posadas is a mestizo tradition which occurs throughout communities in Belize but is strongly observed in Benque Viejo del Carmen. The 9 day custom starts on 16th December with the statues of Mary and Joseph being taken from Church to someones home which is locked. This procession is usually accompanied by marimba music, candles and firecrackers. Eventually after prayers and a reenactment of the nativity the doors are opened and the statues remain at the house for the evening. The following few nights the statues are taken to other families.
In the Toledo district where the Maya influence is strong, the ancient ceremony known as Deer Dance is often performed traditionally at Christmas and other special occasions. The Dance is performed by 24 dancers in masks including a jaguar, deer, a hunter among other characters.
Belizeans love their turkey and ham for Christmas dinner and this is usually served with trimmings including stuffing and of course the Belizean favorite of rice and beans. In certain cultures, tamales or relleno are served instead or in concert with the traditional Christmas dinner. Black fruit cake is a favorite Belizean dessert at this time.
Christmas is a really wonderful time to visit Belize. The weather is warm , the welcome is warm and you will feel like family. And don’t forget to try the Rumpope!