The excitement of an ‘ole Guyana X-mas’

Dear Editor,
The Christmas season brings back memories of an “ole Guyana X-mas” which is a unique experience, a celebration that lasts weeks, very different from a New York X-Mas which is short and which lacks all the fun things done in Guyana.  The season was usually one of expectancy with the youths in particular looking forward for it and having a glorious time the week of school closing and the three weeks off from school.

Christmas is the most celebrated of all festivals in Guyana. Even Hindus and Muslims partake in the celebration. People eagerly looked forward for the season and parents took a keen interest in planning activities to welcome the celebration for their children and relatives.  I recollect, as soon as the Diwali and Eid festivals were over, people were in the year end mode and preparation for Christmas and New Year would begin. Homes begin to have a new look. Children decorated a tree and around the home.     The young got new clothes to go to the cinemas or horse racing or for the ride to town on Christmas Eve.  In the old days, there were no designer sneakers or clothing.  But people were contented with inexpensive garment or footwear.

During the last week of work before Christmas, offices would hold parties for their staff.  Schools would also hold parties for kids; balloons, candies, cakes and drinks were distributed.  Students would sing carols. Churches held nativity plays and candle light services.  People would go for mid-night mass at the churches on Christmas eve.  Also on Christmas eve, parents would take their children to the city for window shopping, or to purchase toys, or to have ice-cream, boiled channa, and other goodies. And before children went to bed, they were told to hang socks and to make a promise never again to use profanity or behave bad for Santa to give them gifts.  And lo and behold when they wake up in the morning, there are small gifts in their socks.

The youths looked forward for the baking of the cake and bread and assisted with beating the egg (no electric machines) and mixing the ingredients.  The fresh bread usually went well with Dutch head or tip top cheese and soft drinks or sorrel or ginger beer or mauby.  The sponge and black cake made the day for the youths. Watching the masquerade bands gave a terrific feeling and put one in a rhythmic tempo. Children would make their own fireworks from the tin of carbon which when lighted set off a bang, much like that of a firecracker.  Steel wool, dipped in kerosene, and lit provided local fireworks.

Early Christmas morning, the sheep, goat, fowl and duck would be killed and everyone assisted with de-feathering or cleaning the meat. And the cooking would begin for lunch so the children could leave for the movies or the races. Curried and massala dishes and dhal-puri and pachounie (intestines, liver, heart, tripe of goat or sheep) were and still are the favorite.  The bara and phulourie added to dainty dishes.  Accompanying these delicious meals were home-made ice-cream and fresh fruits (apples, pears, grapes) and dried dates from the temperate countries.  We looked forward for a small slice of the delicious red apple or a couple grapes and some cydrax.

During the season, people would embrace and exchange cards and gifts and everyone would have a hearty time.  Traditional music (chutney, soca, carols, Christmas songs, Indian movie and golden Bollywood oldies) would be blasted throughout neighbourhoods. Children played with their toys in the streets.

On Christmas, after lunch, people would gather around their radios to listen to greetings that were taped from relatives overseas and aired on the local radio.  It was quite an excitement to hear the name of one’s family announced over the radio. The X-Mas celebration would continue on Boxing Day with more greetings and the same kinds of meals and drinks.  The celebration repeated itself on Old year’s night with a visit to the town and during the New Year when again people listened to greetings coming from abroad from loved ones and going to the cinemas or races.

Those were the good old times of celebrating the season unlike in today’s more materialistic world when so much is available but lacking the goodwill, peace and enjoyment of yesteryear.
Yours faithfully,
Vishnu Bisram

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