The Dominican Republic has a very diverse culture which has created a wide variety of unique traditions. These traditions have historical and culture significance specific to the country and are highly celebrated by the inhabitants. If you are visiting the country, do yourself a favour and try to experience as many of these traditions as you can.
The Dominican Republic is where the merengue dance has its origins, a style which has spread and become famous all over the world. For those who are unfamiliar with it, merengue is a fast-paced, lively dance music that features a lot of drums and brass. Its suggestive lyrics and erotic dance movements make it easy to identify.
Dominican cuisine is a combination of Spanish, African and Taíno culture. The signature meal in the Dominican Republic is Sancocho, a stew made of seven different types of meat which is found in different variations across the island. It is usually served with rice, beans and salad and it is enjoyed during all Dominican Republic holidays.
El Carnaval de la Vega
This carnival began as a religious activity to celebrate the triumph of good over evil and has recently morphed into a celebration of Dominican independence. It features haunting devil masks made of papier-mâche – intricate gargoyles painted in many different colours, with spiked horns and real cows’ teeth. The art of making these masks is a local tradition and the skills are passed down from generation to generation. This festival is also well-known for its music, food, drinks and for being a colorful and vibrant celebration.
Like most countries, the Dominican Republic has its own rules when it comes to marriage. One of these is the inclusion of “padrinos and madrinas” (godparents of the wedding) which is a long-standing tradition. The godparents are usually the mother of the groom and the father of the bride who also serve as witnesses. Another wedding tradition is to have a child (usually a boy) carry “arras” or coins in a tray. They are given to the priest who passes them to the groom, who then passes them to the bride. This exchange signifies the couples’ pledge to provide for each other and for material goods to be shared equally.
In Dominican culture, funerals come with certain traditions that are meant to show respect and caring. One of these traditions is called “cumplir”. Cumplir refers to the fact that a person is obliged to go to a funeral whether or not they want to because it is their duty. A death in the Dominican Republic begins a period of nine days of mourning. These nine days consist of three days of grieving (crying and reminiscing), 3 days of silence (thinking and reverence) and 3 days for release (accepting and separating).
‘Fuegos artificiales’ or fireworks are a huge part of the Christmas celebrations in the Dominican Republic. Unlike North America, where fireworks are mostly used by children and teenagers, here adults and children alike use them to usher in the Christmas spirit. There are stands all over the country that specialize in selling them. There is also a traditional exchange of gifts called ‘Un Angelito’ which translates as ‘a little Angel’. A family or other group place the name of each member in a sack and each person picks one out. They must then give that person a gift every week throughout the Christmas holiday and the identity of the giver must remain a secret until the last day when they reveal themselves.
You are what you wear
In Dominican society, appearance is very important as it is used to indicate social standing and the degree of a person’s success. Dominicans take pride in wearing quality fabrics and buying the best clothes they can afford. Designer labels are looked upon favorably, especially those from the United States.
Baseball is by far the most popular sport in the Dominican Republic and many players from the country have gone on to play for the American MLB (Major League Baseball). The most famous player to come out of the Dominican Republic was Juan Marichal, who has been inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame. The Dominican Republic even holds an annual 6-team baseball tournament.
Boxing is the second most popular sport in the Dominican Republic, with many world champion fighters hailing from this part of the world. One of the most famous is Joan Guzmán, who earned the nickname “The Little Tyson”. He was a WBO super bantamweight and super featherweight champion.
This is not meant to taken in a literal sense: this tradition involves young people “kissing” the hands of their elder family members such as their mom, dad, uncle and grandad. The term “kissing hands” actually refers to asking for a blessing. A younger person would say something like ‘blessing dad’ and they would respond ‘God bless you, honey’.