New York Guyanese celebrate Christmas in the old style

Dear Editor,

Christmas and the related end of year season is the most celebrated of all festivals. In New York, an aura of the seasonal celebration is in the air in Guyanese residential neighbourhoods (where there are ethnic enclaves) as well as in the main Guyanese business districts such as Liberty Avenue (Richmond Hill), Jamaica Avenue (Queens) and Flatbush Avenue (Brooklyn), etc. On Liberty Avenue, Flatbush Avenue, and other shopping areas patronized by Guyanese and other Caribbean people, people flocked to the stores over the weekend rushing to shop for gifts, decorations, drinks and food items. Guyanese business leaders complain that business has been down; in fact the same complaint is heard in other ethnic communities as well, and the city as a whole; people are not spending as much as last year.

But in spite of the slow economy, shops on the varied business avenues are well decorated (they have been so since Thanksgiving and some before Diwali) with lights and related paraphernalia comparable to other shopping districts in New York City during the season. Christmas music emanates from many of the stores and one can purchase virtually everything related to Christmas at any of hundreds of Guyanese and other Caribbean stores in the communities. Most people, from outside the city or upstate and even from Brooklyn and Queens Village or Long Island, prefer to come to Liberty Avenue to shop where they meet and reminisce about a Guyanese Christmas holiday and enjoy a hearty meal at one of dozens of Guyanese restaurants; some even patronize the rum shops or clubs, as they are called in the city.

One can feel the Christmas spirit in the Guyanese communities. Bright multi-coloured lights, trimmings, and other paraphernalia are on display in front of homes drawing onlookers, many of whom take photographs or video the spectacle. Around the greater Richmond Hill neighbourhood, an abundance of flickering multicoloured lights with a variety of designs line the windows and entrances to the home and are displayed on trees outside on the lawn.

The season is usually one of expectancy among the large Guyanese population regardless of racial or religious affiliation. Virtually everyone partakes in the Christmas spirit. The Christmas holiday festival transcends religions as trees are brightly lit next to fluttering Jhandis or the homes of Muslims. Halal shops do well this season as do roti shops. Hindus and Muslims may not attend church mass but like other Guyanese they prepare that special holiday meal and beverages and join in the Christmas spirit with other Guyanese and Americans. Cakes, pastries and bread have been baked from last weekend onward.

The end of the year season is also a time for parties at businesses owned by Guyanese or where large numbers of Guyanese are employed. Several businesses hosted fetes. However, bashes at five star hotels are conspicuous by their absence unlike previous years. Traditional Guyanese food, such as dhal puri and curried mutton, chicken, goat, duck, and alou, and fried rice, channa, and chowmein are served. Several Mandirs also held year-end holiday concerts over the last couple of weekends. Last Saturday the Indo-Caribbean Federation hosted a luncheon for seniors on Liberty Avenue. And this Sunday, community leaders hosted its annual Christmas luncheon at Rousseau catering restaurant where some 500 were presented with gifts after a delicious meal all done by volunteers.

As usual on the streets in the shopping districts, men engage in rum or beer drinking. Guyanese bars and night clubs have been busy, although owners complain of slow business. Traditional music (local Indian songs, calypso, parang, Bollywood and golden oldies from yesteryear) are blasted out at varied shops.

Many Guyanese prefer to celebrate Christmas at home, making the yearly pilgrimage to Guyana to experience the good old Guyana Christmas. But seats are unavailable as Caribbean Airlines and Dynamic have long been sold out.

Christian churches in Guyanese neighbourhoods have mounted nativity scenes on their lawns. People are expected to flock to church for midnight mass on Christmas Eve.

The Christmas holiday will be at fever pitch from Thursday when many businesses will close for the rest of the season. Schools go on break from Thursday and reopen the first Monday in the New Year not as long a holiday as in Guyana.

Yours faithfully,

Vishnu Bisram

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