Culture | January 1st, 2024

Happy 220th Birthday Haiti!

By: Alexis Rejouis
Happy 220th Birthday Haiti!

Jan. 1 is a holiday celebrated all over the world as New Year’s Day: the ushering in of a New Year. However, this day also coincides with Haitian Independence Day.

In 1804, Haiti declared its independence from France, becoming the first Black republic in the world and the first country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery.

The day is celebrated by many Haitians worldwide with certain traditions representing the freedom gained in their revolution. Here in Florida, Haitian immigrants and Haitian-Americans have their own ways they carry on these traditions outside of their tiny island in the Caribbean.

Haitian Families Celebrating in Florida

When people think about Haitian culture in Florida, their minds instantly jump to Miami, as the enclave of Little Haiti resides in the city.

Haitian culture, however, can be found in even the smallest of cities in Florida.

Michael Lature is a Haitian-American civil engineering major student from Port Charlotte, FL. According to the United States Census Bureau, Port Charlotte has only 28.4 square miles of land, so it might not seem like an area where Haitian culture would be found. In Lature’s small city, though, he celebrates the holiday with a traditional Haitian dish and his family.

The History Behind The ‘Soup’

Soup joumou is Haitian pumpkin and squash soup eaten on the holiday to symbolize the freedom Haitians gained in their revolution against the French.

While under French rule, enslaved Africans on the island were not allowed to eat soup joumou as it was a delicacy. Once the enslaved Africans freed themselves, becoming what we know as Haiti, they reclaimed the dish.

Two hundred and twenty years later, Haitians consume the soup as a symbol of their freedom.

“New Year’s only matters on New Year’s Eve, but New Year’s Day is all about Haitian Independence Day,” Lature said. “And Getting with the family to eat some soup joumou after Haitian mass at church.”

“The French slave masters were the only ones allowed to eat the soup during slavery, which was prepared by Africans,” Lature said. “After the rebellion, though, we ate it as a celebration, so knowing that history makes it sweeter.”

Home Away From Home

Through this “sweet” history, Haitian culture has thrived even in those who have never stepped foot on the island. Ruthnie Denais, a Haitian-American from Orlando, said she has found ways to stay connected to the culture despite not being in Haiti.

“I can still feel connected to my culture despite not being in Haiti,” Denais said. “My family and being surrounded by other Haitians helps me feel as close as possible.”

The celebration of Haitian Independence Day is not just a historical commemoration but a living testament to the strength, unity, and resilience of the Haitian people.

As Danielle Gilles, a Haitian immigrant who grew up in the city of Miami, prepares the soup for her family, she remarks on the beauty of reigning in the New Year while celebrating the persistence of Haitian culture.

“It’s a double blessing because while we’re celebrating a New Year, we’re also celebrating another year of being the first Black independent nation,” Gilles said. “We’re not just celebrating a new chapter in our lives, but we’re also celebrating a new chapter in this remarkable feat that we as Haitians and our ancestors accomplished, so that makes the New Year even sweeter.”