Guyanese celebrate Christmas in New York as if they were at home

Dear Editor,

The Christmas season is one of expectancy among the large Guyanese population in various parts of America.  The shops on Liberty Avenue, one of the hubs of Guyanese and Caribbean commercial activity, are buzzing with sales. People seem in a jovial mood though some look very stressed in making preparations for guests and keeping the family happy.

The commercial districts on Liberty, Flatbush, Jamaica, Cypress, and Westchester Avenues have been teeming with shoppers in recent days, particularly last weekend, the final one before the holiday. Huge numbers of multi-coloured lights and other paraphernalia are on display in front of stores brightening them at dusk. The lights, trimmings and other decorations are reminiscent of shopping in Regent Street and other Guyanese shopping areas of yesteryear.

One can purchase virtually everything related to Christmas at the dozens of Guyanese and other Caribbean stores that line Liberty Avenue.  The stores on the avenue and the avenue itself are brightened for the yuletide season, well decorated with party favours and buntings comparable to any other shopping district in the city during Christmas. And appropriate Christmas music at full blast emanates from many of the ethnic stores, something missing from many mainstream American stores.  The aromatic smell of dainty dishes wafts in the air from the restaurants and bakeries selling delicious Guyanese bread and cakes. And the bars are doing brisk business as usual in spite of a stagnant economy. And unlike in the past, I have not seen any of the masquerade bands this year in the commercial district of Flatbush during my visit last weekend. But people sing carols in Flatbush (live carolling missing on Liberty) which was teeming with Guyanese shoppers.  Sybil’s and the roti shops in Flatbush were packed as usual, and so were the  roti shops in Richmond Hill.

One can also feel the Christmas spirit in residential streets as well. Going around the Guyanese neighbourhoods in Richmond Hill, Jamaica, Queens Village and other communities one can see an abundance of flickering multi-coloured lights lining the exterior of homes and even on some trees outside on the lawn.  It is as if the houses engage in an unofficial competition for the best decorated and most lit title, as in Guyana.

Hust as in Guyana, the Christmas holiday festival transcends religions. Christmas lights blink near fluttering jhandis and lighted crescents as Hindus and Muslims also partake in the Christmas spirit.  Everyone enjoys the yuletide season.

White collar businesses are not left out of the festivities with many Guyanese businesses, especially the real estate and law offices, holding Christmas parties. However, businesses are not as extravagant in their spending as in previous years, given current tight funds and the economy. Lawyer Dharmin Baichu had a lovely fête last week at a restaurant with a couple of hundred guests.  The Guyana Arya Samaj USA Mandir had its annual year-end dinner two weeks ago packed with revellers. The Caribbean Hindu Senior Citizens Center held its luncheon last weekend. Unlike in Guyana, schools in NY will close from Friday and there are no school parties or Christmas carolling – separation of church and state.

Although Guyanese are having a fun and an enjoyable time during the season, Christmas in New York is not the same as being in Guyana.  Many wish to celebrate Christmas “at home,” and some already departed for the yearly pilgrimage to Guyana while others look forward to this journey in the coming days. Caribbean Airlines and Delta are sold out, unable to accommodate passengers who want to go home for Christmas.

Yours faithfully,
Vishnu Bisram

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