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My memories of a Bajan Christmas are forever embedded in my memory bank. I treasure them as some of the best memories of my life.
My parents were “hardworking” class people. My mum was a shop assistant in my (maternal) grandmother’s shop and my father wore several hats, namely, carpenter, joiner, mason and so on. I am the third of five children.
The lead-up to the Christmas week was filled with excitement and anticipation and it was not at all about the expectation of what gifts would be under the tree. You see, there was no tree. Back then, in the mid-1960s and beyond, our gifts were new Christmas outfits. Dresses for the girls and shirts and pants for the boys.
During that Christmas week, our home became the North Pole and we became the elves. There was weeding to be done around the perimeter of the house.
The yard had to be cleaned (by my brothers) so (as my mother would say) that you could eat off the ground. Any old useless gadget(s) which laid dormant all year had to be cleared away and taken to the front of the house for garbage collection. There were walls to be washed or painted, if necessary, floors to be scrubbed and mopped.
My sister and I had to pick rice, shell green peas (from our garden) and clean sorrel, also from our garden. We also grated coconut to make sweetbread and pone. Yum-yum.
My mum made her famous tongue-teasing “black cake” from ingredients she had prepped and soaked the previous year, as well as yellow cake (also called pound cake) and jug-jug. The ham had to be soaked to rid it of some of the salt. There were chickens or turkeys to be killed (my father’s job), plucked and prepped for baking. A beef stew was made for the peas and rice.
Other items include Congoleum, oil skin and box carts of white rocks from the beach to put around the garden.
There were hams in black paper and bags hanging from the roofs of the shops in town. Also, “English apples” in trays on the street.
Christmas Eve day, old curtains were taken down and sheets were hung at the windows instead, and the mahogany chairs were either restained or polished until you could see your face clearly in them. Neighbours ran a friendly competition to surprise each other and to see who had the most attractive curtains when all was revealed on Christmas morning.
The climax and rewards for all the hard work we put in was a delightful Christmas morning breakfast with a variety of eats (we most likely would not see again until next Christmas). A nice church service. Then the icing on the cake: after church, our most anticipated trip to Queen’s Park.
Everyone was decked out in their Sunday best or new Christmas outfits. It was more like a gigantic family reunion and fashion show combined.
There were squeals of delight from little ones either being chased or chasing their friends. There were games such as lucky dip (one of my favourites), pin the tail on the donkey, and spin the wheel, where you could win prizes. There were some just for fun like the hula-hoop.
All sorts of delightful treats such as sugar cakes, cotton candy, nut cakes, glassy, popcorn, black bitch and many more (I long forgot) could be bought. When our parents said it was time to leave, we would beg to stay a bit longer, but, sadly, all good things must come to an end. We would leave the Park with our heads touching our chins as we slowly dragged our feet towards the exit.
This melancholy did not last too long because once back home, we changed our clothes, washed our hands and sat down to a delicious Christmas feast where we ate to the point of our tummies being overextended, with the thought in our minds that Christmas only came once a year.
After lunch, neighbours visited each other, exchanged goodies and chatted before moving on to the next house.
These are my “forever” memories of my Bajan Christmases where neighbours truly cared for, looked out for and shared unconditionally with each other.
We cannot go back in time, but I wish we could get back most of our humanity for which our Bajan culture and heritage was known.
Wishing all my fellow Bajans and visitors to our beautiful island a very Merry Christmas and a New Year filled with good health, peace, joy and prosperity!
– BARBARA BARKER