Christmas in the Caribbean has been and still is one of those magical moments in one’s life At least this is how I felt growing up in Guyana and working across the region. Whether it was the voice of Harry Belafonte, the Merrymen or some reggae/Calypso singer putting “Mary’s Boy Child” to Caribbean rhythms, the festive atmosphere where hospitality overflows, going to Church, participating in School Concerts, following the Masquerade Band around the town, or getting tipsy from eating too much of Bertha’s “Black Cake”, I still yearn for Christmas in the Caribbean: for once etched in the mind it is never the same anywhere else. Forget “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Dreaming of a White Christmas”, Christmas in tropical Caribbean always beckons!
A combination of things made Christmas in the Caribbean unforgettable for me. In the basket of magical memories are some that stand out: the distinctive sounds, especially music (religious and secular) at full blast, church bells pealing, radio programmes blasting away, the carollers braving the noise of barking dogs and unlit roads, and local market and roadside sellers hustling to sell gadgets while wide-eyes children gaze with astonishment starting to believe in Santa Claus. These sounds – the music, laughter, horns, whistles, bells, popping toy guns, crying dolls, screeching toy cars – all combine to produce a heavenly cacophony that will even displace “Silent Night, Holy Night”.
Then there are the distinctive smell of foods and drinks: the Christmas “black cake” that every lad will hide from when being prepared as their hands get tired from beating the salted butter in water with a large spoon. A cake that will travel to family members across the globe, with its unique smell of local fruits, soaked in enough rum for the taste and the long journey. Then there were the smells of the drinks: ginger beer, sorrel, and mauby, soon taken over by the aroma of foods such as pepper-pot and an array of dishes wafting around the houses and along the streets.
The other memory is that of an expansive hospitality that welcomes all to share in the festivity. Foods, cakes and drinks are not only prepared for one’s own family. It is shared with all those near and far, stranger, neighbours and family. There is so much exchanging of food-baskets that I often wonder who actually eats! It is an open season of feasting whatever faith tradition one follows. It maybe that in such down to earth openness and hospitality the Child of the manger may break into our midst and lead us in surprising ways.
©jagessar december 2013