Easter is considered by many Christians to be the holiest day on the Christian calendar, surpassing Christmas in its importance and meaning. In Barbados, Easter traditions have changed markedly over the past few decades, steadily shifting from practices grounded in Christian belief to those which are increasingly secular. In Barbados of the past, Good Friday was viewed as a very solemn day on which alcohol and meat were not to be consumed, nor was secular music to be played. Additionally, it was also believed that no one should go swimming in the sea as this might result in the individual drowning. From noon until three o’clock (the hour at which many Christians believed that Christ died) Barbadians would attend the traditional three-hour service.
Other Good Friday traditions include the sticking of the physic nut tree and setting of an egg. Persons interested in what the future held for them placed the white of a freshly laid egg into a clear glass of water. By 12 o’clock the egg would take a particular shape; a ship indicated travel; a church meant a wedding; and of course a coffin indicated a funeral.
On or approaching noon on Good Friday, some Barbadians would stick the physic-nut tree which bled a red substance which was felt to signify the blood of Christ. Apparently, the substance from the tree was not as rich on other days.
The Saturday before Easter Sunday was referred to as ‘Holy Saturday’. On that day many butchers across the island took the opportunity to slaughter the pigs which had been ‘engaged’ for Easter lunch. Householders spent the time beautifying the house, baking and otherwise preparing for Easter.
On Easter Sunday, Barbadians, many clad in traditional white, flocked the various churches for Easter service which was usually followed by a large family lunch. On Easter Monday or Easter bank Holiday, Barbadian children, and some adults attended fairs and picnics and also engaged in kite flying.
The kite flying tradition has been linked to Sephardic Jews who migrated to Barbados in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and indeed the design of the standard kite in Barbados has been traced to southern Europe. Kites in Barbados were traditionally hand-made from materials such as cane trash or coconut spines form the ‘bones of the kite’, newspaper or wrapping paper form the body of the kite which was glued to the frame using berries from the Clammy Cherry tree. Discarded clothing provided cloth for the tail of the kite and twine for the kite’s string.
Although there has been changes in the manner in which Easter is celebrated in Barbados, traditions such as attending church services, Easter lunch and kite-flying, continue. To these can be added Easter bonnet parades and competitions for children and adults, Easter egg hunts and hot cross buns.
Image of kite flying at the Garrison Savannah. BMHS Collection