Octoba ending so dat mean dat Mummy and me soon gine town ta buy de cloth ta mek my Christmas dress. I can’t wait ta see wha kinda dress I getting dis year. I already tell Mummy wha kind I want and I hope she let me have it.
The preparation for Christmas and our Independence celebrations were what we had to look forward to during the month of November. Some people started as early as October to buy the materials to make new curtains and clothes for their family.
The dressmakers and tailors were busy at work on the old sewing machines to be sure that everyone was well outfitted for Christmas.
The men and boys were hard at work painting the house and weeding the yard. By this time all the furniture in the front house (living room) was piled into the middle of the room and covered with a cloth ready for the paint job. The week before Christmas the floor was polished and ready for furniture to be replaced but that was not done till Christmas Eve.
The week before Christmas, the men went to the ‘marl hole’ and dug marl to spread all over the front yard.
A marl hole…some were smaller.
De sun use tah hurt yah eyes looking at the marl in de yard. We sure use tah have ah white Christmas.
Work was non-
The grater we used.
A big part of the celebration was the church’s Sunday School Christmas Program which was usually the Sunday before Christmas. It used to be on Christmas night but then someone had the brilliant idea to have it the Sunday before Christmas and I was very happy about that. This was when the girls wore the new Christmas dresses and shoes and the boys their new pants, shirts and ties and shoes. We were all decked out to recite the long poem we had learned. The church would be packed and the better you said it, the louder the applause you got. The whole family would we waiting to clap for you when you finished. It wasn’t unusual to hear somebody scream out “that’s my boy” or “looka my girl, she look too sweet”.
Many families kept pigs which were slaughtered to feed the family. Some were also sold to friends, neighbors and co-
Foreday morning on the day before Christmas Eve, the butcher would show up at the house with a ‘sticking-
After returning from delivering the pork, the girls went to work with their mother in the kitchen to do the baking. We would have pudding (pound cake), sweet bread, pone and salt bread. The great (fruit) cake was made a week prior to this and was soaked with port wine.
Pudding (pound cake) Sweet Bread
Great (fruit) cake
Then you had to boil the ham (which had been soaking for days to get out some of the salt). The rice had to be picked, the pigeon peas had to be picked and shelled.
The stove on which we cooked…there was a separate oven that used to sit on top of the stove for baking.
Case of sweet drinks (sodas) Casuarina trees
The boys had to polish the chairs and make trips to the shop to get the cases of sweet drinks (sodas) and cut de Christmas tree (a branch of a mile (casuarina)tree.
The type of furniture we had
I remember looking forward to Christmas morning 5:00AM service. The house was always full of the smell of the ham and coconut bread baking. Mummy and Daddy rushed us off to bed by 10pm, and they stayed up to finish all preparations. Before going to bed we were allowed to put up the tree in it’s designated spot. You could hear the banging of the hammer as curtains were being hung and smell the aroma of varnish or French Polish on the mahogany furniture, very often when you sat on the chairs on Christmas day you got stuck to them. They woke us up at 3 o’clock to get ready for church, not that we went to sleep at all because we were too excited to sleep. When we came out we would see the new curtains for the first time and the front house (living room) would be all decked out. This was one of the few times we were allowed to sit in the living room chairs.
I used to love walking to church on Christmas morning and see the sun rise while taking in all the aromas coming from everybody’s house and the “Merry Christmas” greetings you got as you met your neighbors on their way to church. The women would be dressed in all white and the men black pants and ties with a white shirt. It felt like we were there at the birth of Jesus when the congregation started to sing “Christians Awake Salute The Happy Morn”.
People back then could not afford to give each other gifts; however, they shared their food with each other. Those who were less fortunate in the neighborhood, or had lost a parent, were taken care of by the rest of the neighbors. The months leading up to Christmas the adults would get together to decide which family they would be helping. One family would outfit one child and another family would take care of another child, so when Christmas came they looked just as good as everybody else. Then on Christmas day, people would bring them food and baked stuff. They were very appreciative of whatever was done for them. That was a life lesson that remains with me to this day. I need to note that not all families in the village participated in this venture, however, there was a core group of neighbors who looked out for each other and my family happened to be one of them.
Right after we got home from church our parents would send us with a basket of goodies all packaged out with names on each package. We would go door to door delivering the stuff that Mum baked the day before. At just about each house you would get a package to take back home. Very often you’ll leave home with a full basket and return with one.
Now it was time to relax and enjoy the fruits of our labor. First a big breakfast consisting of ham and salt bread, sweet bread, pudding (cake) and all the goodies that Mum made. After this we would relax in the front house and listen to the greetings coming from relatives overseas which were recorded months ago in the various countries they now lived and broadcast on Christmas Day on Rediffusion.
Rediffusion was our only source of radio communication.
Those who lived in town or had transportation to get there would go to the annual promenade in Queen’s Park. There people were all dressed in their Sunday best and greeted each other while enjoying the concert being put on by The Royal Barbados Police Band.
The Royal Barbados Police Band
Dinner was a grand affair. The table would be laden with pork, rice and peas (with pig tail), chicken (that was killed the day before), macaroni and cheese (one of the few times we would get it), vegetables (from our garden), jug-
The next day was Christmas bank holiday and we either went visiting relative or they came visiting us. After that, Christmas celebrations were over and we started to look forward to next year.
Those were the good old days the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Submitted October 2011
Christmases of Long Ago
A Barbados Perspective
By: Yvette Walker