As an Irish person living in Jean Rabel in Northwest Haiti, the feast of Saint John the Baptist (Fet Jean Baptiste) felt like Christmas. And perhaps it was Christmas time as I’ve been told Christmas itself is quite an underrated occasion and lacks any feeling of celebration.
The town of Jean Rabel, like many in Haiti has been named after Saint John the Baptist (who came as a forerunner to Jesus). He was born exactly 6 months before Jesus as his feast is on the 24th June, exactly 6 months before Christmas Eve.
During the days leading up to the feast day itself there was lots of activity in the town and lots of visitors arriving by bus for the novena that took place from 16th June.
As well as visitors arriving by bus, a large number came to the town by car and on the 24th itself there was almost a traffic jamb (a hitherto unheard of occurrence) in Jean Rabel.
Many Haitians now living in the US arrived to celebrate the feast with family and friends. This caused great excitement for local families delighted to see their offspring or other family members back in the home town.
Over the weekend of the 24th many weddings and baptisms took place in the local church while other parties and celebrations brought much needed business to local hostelries. The atmosphere was uplifting and joyous and Sr. Rose who has experienced many feasts of Saint Jean Baptiste in Jean Rabel said she felt the celebrations this year were heartening to see as it seemed to be the mark of a new vision for the area and a greater positivity for the town since the devastation of lives and livelihoods that squeezed so much life from the people left behind after the Haitian earthquake that struck the country in 2010.
After Mass on the feast of St. John the Baptist itself, everyone was treated to a meal in the church grounds which brought the whole town and its visitors out in force with an air of community spirit, joy and togetherness that many, especially in Ireland, associate with Christmas.
Perhaps Haiti is now beginning to look forward to a better future, but the reality of such a future is dependent on so many variables (such as weather, good harvests, political stability, the building of trust and honest dealings throughout society) outside of the average Haitian’s control, we can only hope their strong Christian faith will sustain them as the future unfolds.