The Serenaders

Tamara’s interview was recorded in April 2019 at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House.

Local poet and entrepreneur Tamara Groenveldt shared some of her favorite St. Martin Christmas traditions in an interview in 2019:

Every family would do their potato pudding and on Christmas day they would visit different families and of course you would be exchanging foods. And of course, coconut tarts, guavaberry tarts, that’s a very big one at Christmas time.

We have sorrel, I like the juice, I’m not a big drinker. We have lime punch as well. We also have guavaberry punch. That’s a staple at Christmas time. Every family has a bottle in their house. And everyone usually knew how to make their own guavaberry rum as well. You would usually get the guavaberry and you put it to soak for at least a year. And then that would be what you would serve the serenaders when they would come by at four o’clock or whatever time in the morning.

Guavaberry tart is a St. Martin Christmas tradition. (Photo by St. Martin’s Sweetness)

So we still have serenading happening in Grand Case. We have a group of people who have decided to preserve that part of our history and they would go and they would serenade every year. It is important to me because growing up, I remember serenaders coming to your home. And it would be persons like Tanny and the Boys that were playing string band music. So they would come with like, the bath pan and the triangle, the grater with the afro pick. And they would be playing this traditional music.

They would usually sing something along the lines of “Open the door because the dew is falling on us.” So they would call your name, they would say “Charlie, open the door, open the door, for the dew is falling on us.” And so then you would have to get up at three to four in the morning, whatever time it was, and you would open your door and you should always have something prepared to give to the serenaders.

So they would want the bush tea, or they would want the guavaberry rum. If you have the potato pudding. And every household that they visit, you have to have something to offer the serenaders, ‘cause they’re coming and they’re playing for you. They’re out on your porch and they’re just playin’ all this music: “Mama make your johnny cakes, Christmas comin’!” It was amazing.

Guava and coconut tarts are also popular at Christmas time. (Photo by St. Martin’s Sweetness)

Because those persons in Grand Case still do it to keep tradition alive, it really helps me to feel the Christmas spirit. And I feel like when, some years ago, when there were all types of laws that came into being to regulate serenaders, I think that’s what actually helped our tradition of serenading to go down the drain. Because what happened was, according to how I understand it, persons who came to live on the island, who were not familiar with serenading, they started calling the gendarmes and the police and saying that these persons are disturbing us when we are trying to sleep.

Now traditionally, it is St. Martin tradition for you to come in those wee hours in the morning to serenade your friends and family and neighbors with beautiful St. Martin music. Now those persons who actually put the complaints in, they do not understand who we are as a people or what we do as a people. And by putting those laws and regulations in place, telling persons that, okay, you need to now get a permit to serenade, you know a lot of the locals felt like, “Why do I need to get a permit to serenade? I’ve been doing this for many years. It has never been a problem. This is who we are. I’m just not going to do it.”

So they refused to do it and that was what, in my opinion, helped the serenading part of our tradition to go down the drain. So kudos to the persons who are actually trying to revive it and keep it alive so that the younger generation can come in and know, or at least feel what it felt like to be serenaded by your neighbors or family or persons even coming from the other side of the island, the southern side of the island, to play music for family and friends at Christmas time.

Special thanks to the Les Fruits de Mer oral history team: Laura Bijnsdorp, Veronica Duzant, Charlie Gombis and Vida Hodge.

Learn more about Tamara’s company and their traditional St. Martin baked goods: St. Martin’s Sweetness.

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