In my Gomes Casseres family, we leap over burning incense on December 31. Don’t ask.
Show up around 7:30 – 8 pm half-tipsy, sometimes full-tipsy from all-day roadside day time new year’s eve parties. Jump over the smoky pan filled with hot coals and aromatic incense three times. Every member of my Gomes Casseres family gets a turn. Creative jumping is encouraged! My cousin has perfected the backwards jump. My father does the tiny-step-over. My Granny invented the wide-legged cross-over. I tend to wear a skirt, to sensia tur tur (all the way!) Us GC’s start jumping sensia in the womb. Once we start toddling, we’re held by our arms and swung over the pan, legs dangling, smoke filling the air. My (somewhat asthmatic) brother spends most of December 31 walking a smoking sensia pan through various business buildings, setting off fire alarms (if they’d have been installed). My mother burns a sensia konfó all-day December 31, sometimes January 1 too. My grandmother Da Costa Gomez used to gift family members New Year’s champagne bottles, decorated with sensia sacks. The founder of Kas di Sensia on Rooseveltweg services about 20 customers a day during the year; that number jumps to 3,000 on December 29, 9,000 on December 30, and 15,000 on December 31. He believes he covers 70-80% of Curaçao’s sensia needs, “don’t mess with your new year! All that uncertainty! You want the year to turn on you? You should do ‘todo por todo’ to insure your new year, so you prosper, so things go your way!”
Men and women from all walks of life line up at the checkout counter; their baskets filled with bags of sensia, labels expressing their deepest desires for the new year. 7 Sorto is all-inclusive and by far the most popular. Ra’i has been running Kas di Sensia for the past 18 years; he stocks the store with Curaçao’s multi-cultural society in mind.
“Curaçao is 80% Roman Catholic, but the world is filled with all sorts of beliefs; it’s my job to service those beliefs, see to it that our pockets of Thailand, Peru, China, Japan, Mexico, Suriname, Brazil, Venezuela, India, Portugal etc feel at home.” Ra’i travels frequently and imports 95% of Kas di Sensia’s stock, from all over the world. His store is filled with evil eye amulets, Buddha, Krishna and San Antonio statues, rosaries, etc. Though Yu di Kòrsou have a ‘mixed fried rice’ of mostly ‘harmonized’ spiritual beliefs, we’re united in sensia on New Year’s Eve and Day.
Sensia is believed to have purified plagued, bacteria-filled environments for the past several millennia. “The Three Kings brought three types of incense to purify the nativity of Baby Jesus: Estórake (mud), Frankincense and Myrrh” says Ra’i. Incense is derived from hardened yorá di palu (‘tears from trees’). Some burn their favorite incense throughout the year, searching for calmness and tranquility, others burn incense for health and purification. We tend to burn 7 Sorto around the turn of the year for purification and good luck. “A good 7 Sorto has 49 ingredients (7×7) and a distinctly purifying scent,” says Ra’i. We also clean our houses with Awa di 7 Sorto. “This is our invention!” says frequent Reina di Tumba and Queen of Curaçao Culture, Elia Isenia, as she holds up a bottle of Awa di 7 Sorto. “My ancestors would pluck 7 different fruits from the harvest and mix them together to create a special type of sweet juice (…) we still clean our house with this Awa di 7 Sorto to ring in a plentiful New Year!” Curiosity is killing me, so I ask Ra’i which fruits are in his Awa di 7 Sorto. “But mamita, can’t you see?” Ra’i answers, pointing at the bottle’s label: “Suerte Rapida, Abundancia, Oro y Plata, Abre Camino, Dinero, Exito, Triunfo.”