My Island Christmas
As Christmas approaches, so too does my seasonal nostalgia. I suffer from a self-diagnosed ailment that I call Christmas Nostalgic Disorder or CND. (Don’t google it, I said I made it up, didn’t I?). When afflicted, I get teary eyed while reminiscing about past Christmases spent in St. Vincent. A Christmas song, the smell of ham being cooked or just an event could bring on an attack of CND. The thing is, I miss My Island Christmas. As my own doctor, I think a good prescription for CND would be for me to get it out of my system. So sit back, grab a cup of coffee and let me tell you all about how we do it. (Wait a minute, aren’t you at work? Well I am. Just kidding boss!).
As a kid growing up in St. Vincent, Christmas time was the most anticipated event of the year. Not because of what we expected from Santa as our non-chimney equipped houses would not facilitate the big guy but because it was one of the few times when we kids could get away with almost anything. No one got mad when we were loud or when we didn’t do as we were told. It was as if the Christmas spirit was a contagion that had afflicted everyone, turning them into these unrecognizable and sometimes uncharacteristically ‘nice people.’ Smiles were a dime a dozen.
Then there were all the extras that came with Christmas. We had the Nine Mornings Celebrations. This was an island-wide event held in most village during the nine mornings leading up the big day. You would wake up at around 1am and attend these festivities which included fireworks, talent shows, singing and dancing, best lit house contest and just about various other forms of revelry. Yes food was available. Some activities included going for an early morning swim in the wee hours of the morning. In my late teens, I attended Nine Morning Fetes which is basically a dance starting at 1am and like I said, for 9 straight days. Nine Morning revelers could be seen stumbling home around 5am like zombies caught at the break of dawn. On our walk home, which was usually a few miles for me but a lot longer for some, we would go in search of mangoes. It would still be quite dark so we used our hands to feel around the ground for the fruit. This sometimes made for a few yucky or downright disgusting experiences.
Note that many of the churches held their own version of nine mornings where you could attend services coinciding with the fete times. Some of us would do splits where we attend church one morning then fete the next. The best of both worlds.
Serenading (Carolling) was also one of my favorites. As a little boy, I thoroughly looked forward to waking up at all hours of the night to people singing Christmas Carols at my door. We would stand there in the doorway, clad in various nightly attire listening in rapt attention to the serenders as they were called. (My aunt would make sure I held on to the tip until they were done their set as most were apt to leave as soon as they got the money). On a few occasions, when us boys on the block needed a few bucks to buy treats, we would get whatever instruments we could lay our hands on and go impromptu serenading, knocking up a few houses until we had enough money. I would be the lead singer and also the speech maker. (Serenaders had someone delegated to make a funny speech which included a humorous plea for a tip. “If you are a faithful giver, give me something to cool my liver” was one such phrase).
I also had a weird fascination with the process of slaughtering animals at Christmas. (No! Not wanton, brutal killing for fun, you silly reader. What kind of people do you think we are? No don’t answer that). Many of the locals in my village would butcher a cattle in their back yard. They would butcher it in front of curious and in my case, fascinated onlookers and sometimes sell some of the meat on the spot. This event was also another excuse for an informal holiday get-together which included story telling, more alcohol consumption and lots of laughter. Sometimes you were allowed to roast a piece of the meat, usually the animal testicles on the open fire that happened to be burning.
During the actually week of Christmas, it felt like an extended Christmas day. Everyone played Christmas music. (I have never met a Christmas Grinch back then). The smell of homemade breads and cakes wafting in the air AND the daily consumption of alcoholic beverages were the order of the day. (Come to think of it, maybe that was the reason why they were so nice. Adds a whole new meaning to Christmas Spirit). This is the week when my buddies and I would ‘go around the clock.’ We would forsake sleep during the week, opting to stay awake all night then go to the fete.
The day itself came rather late for many of us. We are usually tired and spent by Christmas morning so we usually crawled out of bed in time for lunch. Well why not? We never really had presents to open and we never longed for any. The Santa Claus thing never did catch on in the islands. Most of us boys got into the practice of buying ourselves a Europa 5. (I know you don’t know what this is). It was a brand of soccer ball that was the most popular. I still remember waking up late one Christmas morning and finding out that my brother had played with my Europa 5 before I did and kicked it into a barbed wire. So I had nothing to play with. I still remember that with brotherly love.
Our breakfast consisted of home-made bread and ham and hot cocoa. (Yes that’s about it but then, it is still one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had),Then we played soccer while the adults engaged in entertaining the wanderers who came by to partake in our Christmas offering of drinks or cake. After lunch, us kids would ‘make the rounds’. We gathered up the neighborhood kids and do some wandering of our own, visiting to houses that we knew would have good food, cake and drinks to offer. (It was fine. Everyone was doing it, even adults). By the time we were a few houses in, our ranks would be tripled as we pick up would-be wanderers along the way.
The big picture here is that these Christmases were celebrated not as a family unit but as a village, as a country. No one was left out. If someone couldn’t afford a proper meal at Christmas, people in the village would take it upon themselves to deliver food to them. The true meaning of Christmas was never more evident. I actually felt the CHRIST in CHRISTMAS as amidst all the afore mentioned revelry and good times, the reason for the season was front and center.
Even surrounded by family and friends here in Canada at Christmas time, I still get that lonely feeling which sometimes gets me teary-eyed. It’s bigger than just friends and family.
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU AND YOURS
or as they say ‘back home’ HAVE A IRIE CHRISTMAS, MON!
- First Christmases (smalltownworld.wordpress.com)