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Can’t Forget Christmas in Guyana
A Guyana Perspective
By Anita Joseph


Christmas in Guyana is something to talk about,

The delicious garlic pork, pepperpot and black cake

Mek you feel hungry, water run out yuh mout

It's excitement and lavish spending, nuff, nuff sacrifices you make,

To decorate yuh house fancy and share out gifts like yu crazy.

 






The Guyanese style of Christmas, as I recall, incurred big spending. So early in the year, the women would get together and start throwing their "box" so they could draw their box money in time to shop for fancy curtains, linoleum, toys for the kids, flowers and all that fancy stuff. It was like trying to keep up with the Joneses. Every family wanted their home to look the best.


In Georgetown, where l lived, the excitement began around September month - stores began displaying their stuff in creative ways: Christmas decorations of countless varieties tantalizingly placed in the show cases to appeal to your eyes, the brightly colored fire trucks, dolls, police cars and numerous other items for the kids that you just can't resist. Some housewives waited until this season to buy new sofas, couches and even kitchen appliances and the nosey neighbors peeking every time they saw a furniture truck stop outside to see who bought what. Some people who couldn't afford would even open credit accounts just to make a big show. Oh Boy! Everything had to be crisp and fresh on Christmas day.


Early in November, the radio stations began to entertain us with Christmas carols and other seasonal songs such as, “Frosty the Snowman”, “Little Christmas Tree”, and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (though we knew nothing about snow). As we listened to these songs the Christmas spirit would begin to stir up in our hearts, even the air outside smelt different, Christmas really brought on a feeling of merriment and light-heartedness.


I remember a particular member of the “Salvation Army," who would stand by the roadside and begin to sing to passers-by. His song went something like this:


"Sango boy and sango gal,

Christmas mahning is here again,

Sango boy, sango gal, Christmas mahning is here again.

Neighba, mahning. Christmas mahning is here again

Sango! Christmas mahning is here again.


I don't know what this meant, however he sang it to a fast beat and moved his body in tune. It was very amusing and entertaining and folks would throw money into his pot.


Masquerade bands made their appearance too around this time, like giving their bands a trial run before the big day arrived.

Men dressed in frilly

short skirts of brilliant colors, Mother Sally, Moongazer and Bull Cow all brightly decorated, made up the band. Flute and drums piercing your ears would attract the attention of shoppers, causing you to leave your task and run to stare and participate in the fun.

 

Suddenly, the Bull Cow would begin a wild tango and raise its head; the crowd would run wild in different directions. The masquerade bands always caused traffic jams. Flouncers must receive a tip from the driver of the vehicle before he's allowed to drive past. Flouncers took part in flouncing competitions, positively entertaining.


The hot spot in Georgetown was Regent Street where the popular stores were found. Here, the crowd begins to build up and become so thick, the pick pockets could remove your wallet without you realizing your money was gone. They were cool operators. The vendors caused so much confusion with the different slangs they used to call out to shoppers. Hear them shouting: “Come girls get yuh curtain rods, fruits for the black cake, don't forget the garlic for the garlic pork." Still others would say, "Get yuh spice, ginger, casareep, decorations, fairy lights, get them now, they goin cheap."

 

Before we tackled the job of "putting away" the house as we referred to it, we often did some spring cleaning - cobwebbing, wiping the walls, cleaning the windows, sometimes adding a fresh coat of paint to some areas, even scrubbing the steps and making everything bright and clean.


Decorating took the form of hanging up fairy lights and curtains, screwing wall plaques and family pictures on the wall, laying down the linoleum to cover the floor and even staining and polishing the boards - whatever was the preference.


On Christmas Eve night the bulk of the work was done with the male family members doing most of the climbing. On Christmas day when you opened your window for the first time you would experience a feeling of satisfaction. You were pleased with the appearance of your house.

 

While some of us were fixing the living room, mum and others would be managing the kitchen - cooking the pepperpot on the stove, stuffing and baking the chicken and ham. The black cake was also put in to bake the same time. Sometimes, to ease the work we baked the black cake a day or two before, or another relative would volunteer to bake all the black cake then share it around.


We also strained the ginger beer and put it into bottles. Some folks made their own "rice wine" or another wine called "Fly." These wines had the potential to make you very tipsy because they became very strong when properly cured. In my family, we would buy a large bottle of Woodpecker cider and couple dozens of aerated drinks to use at our lunch table.


All these made the occasion extra special since these delicacies were not indulged in during everyday life. Chicken and turkey were reserved for special times and celebrations.


With all these activities running, we never forgot church. We worked throughout Christmas eve night and prepared to attend early service on Christmas morning, whether the work was completed or not.


For us, the kitchen was always the last place to fix, and Christmas day dawned with us being very tired and dead beat. This happened every year no matter how early the work commenced. Now that I look back I realize that it was not the smart thing to do. You make so many sacrifices to have a good Christmas, but, oh boy, when Christmas day arrives you're tired, sleepy and just fit for bed.

 

Our senior family members made it their duty to hustle everyone out to church. You had to go, it was not an option. There at the Christmas service you would see persons in church whom you might not have seen for the year. Some folks gain a level of satisfaction from knowing they were in church for Christmas while others feel the same about New Year's eve. The meeting and greeting would last for some time before we proceeded to head back home, hungry and dreaming of putting that fresh bread into our mouths.  


Now, it's time to set up the table for the sumptuous meal we were all waiting for Christmas breakfast. We would take out the expensive wares from the cabinet - teacups and saucers, teapots, milk jugs and colorful place mats, then lay out the numerous items from which to choose to have our fill -  garlic pork, freshly baked homemade bread, pepperpot, ham and eggs, just to name a few. Everything at Christmas speaks of the best. This was one time of the year we all sat around the table to eat as a family. On this day we visited no one. We stayed at home but visited relatives on Boxing Day.



Prayer preceded the eating and after a prolonged breakfast we would turn our attention to opening gifts, exchanging cards and greetings with hugs.

This was the part the kids enjoyed most. When this was over and done we began to put the lunch menu together, the main dish being stuffed baked chicken with some sort of  gravy and fancy rice followed by dessert - sliced black cake, walnuts and peanuts, apples and grapes, which we paid lots of money for After all, it’s Christmas.


Christmas day was mostly a day of quietness; the atmosphere was always one of hushed stillness, now that the noisy, busy shoppers were at home thinking of where the money had disappeared to.


Boxing Day was the direct opposite. This was the day we played Christmas music and used up all the

food remaining from the previous day. On this day Masquerade bands would pass through the streets and relatives would come visiting bringing gifts and dishes they prepared to share. My dad often entertained his own friends who indulged in strong drinks and would erupt into loud singing to show their joy.


These days were days of the radio. Television had not yet become so popular and there was a program we loved to listen to called “No Big Ting.” This was aired every Boxing Day and was very amusing.


 A popular song we heard often at Christmas time was a rendition by a celebrated calypsonian with some of the words being:


Drink ah rum and its Christmas mahning, (drink ah rum)

Ma, ma drink if yuh drinking

Drink ah rum and its Christmas mahning, (drink ah rum)

It's Christmas mahning.


Years have passed and in my home with my kids we still cook our lavish meal for the day, but working and fixing all night, that's absolutely out. Now we concentrate more on spending time together and attending church, since the main reason for celebrating is remembering the birth of our Redeemer.


The focus should be more on sharing instead of buying and lavishing on one’s self. It should be doing things to make someone happy, more so the less fortunate ones among us who cannot afford.


There are projects we can participate in for providing a nice cuddly toy for a homeless or orphaned child, and even writing encouraging letters to families whose mums or dads may be away fighting in the war. When we think of Jesus we should think of others since He came to die instead of us dying.



Christmas in the Caribbean


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