Editor Emeritus - Ed Wilkinson

Pumpkin Soup and Camels Help Make Brooklyn Diverse

The taste of pumpkin soup and the smell of camels are just two things that make Brooklyn and Queens such a multi-cultural diocese.

As we began a new year, Haitians observed New Year’s Day as their Independence Day and they celebrated by drinking pumpkin soup. This coming weekend, Hispanics mark the Feast of the Epiphany. Part of that celebration will be the Parade of the Three Kings with live camels in Williamsburg.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio was the main celebrant of the Haitian Independence Day Mass at Holy Cross Church, Flatbush, on New Year’s Day. He was joined on the altar by about 20 priests of Haitian descent who serve here in the diocese.

The Haitian Revolution was a successful anti-slavery and anti-colonial insurrection that took place in the former French colony of Saint Domingue, from 1791 until Jan. 1, 1804 when the people of the island declared themselves free.

It was the only slave uprising that led to the founding of a state free from slavery and ruled by non-whites and former captives.

Soup joumou, or pumpkin soup, is served at the Haitian Independence Day celebration 2017. (Photo: Ed Wilkinson)

After the Mass in Holy Cross, congregants moved to the parish hall where they enjoyed soup joumou, also known as pumpkin soup, although it is usually made from squash. The soup is a symbol of Haitian freedom. Prior to the Revolution, only the land owners and elite drank the soup which was prepared for them by their slaves. As a sign of their freedom, all the people of Haiti now partake in the delicacy.

It’s a proper mix of beef and bone marrow, turnip, potato, thickened with noodles, and spiced with cloves and Scotch bonnet pepper. Pumpkin sweetens the mixture, although the ingredient is more likely to be kabocha squash.

If you’re of Hispanic descent, then this weekend you might be enjoying a different delicacy known as Rosca de Reyes or Kings’ Bread. Traditionally baked round as an allusion to a King’s crown, it is a staple for the Feast of the Three Kings or the Epiphany. Hidden within the sweet bread is a “Baby Jesus” figurine. The custom is that the individual who finds the toy in his or her slice must then prepare tamales for everyone on the Day of the Candles, Feb. 2, which marks the end of the Christmas season.

Hispanics celebrate Three Kings with great fervor. Just as the Magi brought their gifts to the manger, people of Hispanic heritage exchange gifts on this day. Many communities feature parades and pageants with the Three Kings as the focus.

The Hispanic community in Williamsburg will observe the Feast with the Parade of the Three Kings, with live camels in the line of march, down Graham Ave., from Meeker Ave. to Broadway this Sunday, Jan. 8, beginning at 3 p.m. A Mass for the Feast of Epiphany will be celebrated at 11:30 a.m. at All Saints Church, corner of Throop and Flushing Aves.

With apologies to Pope Francis, who is always urging the Church to be close to the smell of the sheep, we suggest this weekend be a time of closeness to the smell of the camel.

See photos from Brooklyn’s Haitian Independence Day celebration here.