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The Holders on food, family and friendships

Yvette Best

The Holders on food, family and friendships

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FOOD, FRIENDSHIP AND FAMILY.There is nothing that brings the three more tightly together than Christmastime, and in the Holder house it is no different. They have some long-standing traditions.
For the past 41 years, former head of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation Jean Holder, and his wife Norma have been opening their home to family and friends for a special Christmas breakfast that has become a fixture on their Yuletide calendar.
This year is a little more special for the Holders, who have been married for almost 50 years.
“This year we are very fortunate that our second daughter and her husband are spending it with us,” Jean stated.
It’s the very first Christmas for their new grandson Dane and he, his mother Caroline and dad Dirk are in from New York to spend the holidays with them.The time for the breakfast varies according to what time the early Mass is held at St George Parish Church, where Norma is the organist and where the family worships. The faces of the up to 20 guests may vary according to who is overseas, but the menu is pretty much the same.
It’s sweet bread and ham, chocolate/cocoa tea, scrambled eggs, bacon, fruit and cassava pone. The special sweet bread, which is diabetic-friendly, is made by Norma’s practised hands, and Jean is certain it would take the top prize if entered in any competition.“Apart from the regular core of people who come here, this tradition of having this Christmas breakfast has never been broken since 1969,” he said in a quiet boast.
In addition to “very good friends” Cynthia Wilson and her late husband Ronald, the Holders have hosted Rosina Wiltshire, formerly of the United Nations Development Programme, and her husband, actress Cicely Tyson and her niece, Harvard University professor Dorothy Zinberg, their offspring and several other close friends. Many of these, including Zinberg, who is a Jew, would attend the early Mass at St George as well.
 “What Mrs Holder is very good at, is getting people who come to Barbados for the winter, whatever their race or religion, to come to church . . . . We have had some of the most interesting guests at this Christmas morning breakfast,” Jean noted.
“What we have seen as the years have passed is another phenomenon. Our children have grown up, got married, gone away and the generational thing continues. Most of the people who originally came to have breakfast with us, mainly the family members, have gone somewhere else in the world,” he added.
With the sumptuous fare and good company, this get-together could easily go past 1 p.m. By then it is time for lunch.In more recent years, the Holders have been going to the home of friends Ken and Ann Hewitt, where they get to break bread with another set of friends over lunch.This one runs until around 6 p.m., and then it’s right back to where they started. Several of the guests would retire to the Holders’ home for drinks.“I would say that our Christmas has really been a lovely experience, because it’s very much food, friendship and family,” the LIAT chairman said with a smile.Boxing Day finds their siblings and the extended families at the Holders’ home for the annual lunch. This would see upwards of 30 people. It is where Norma’s Jamaican heritage meets Barbados on the table. They stay away from the traditional foods that make up the Christmas spread. The menu includes stew peas with pig trotters and tails, ackee and saltfish, jug-jug, curried chicken, sweet potato, garlic bread and salad.
“I think a lot of food is consumed,” Jean quipped.
The gathering of family is a much anticipated and enjoyable event, but Jean said it is sometimes bittersweet. The two, who started the tradition all those years ago, are now the old people in the group, because of various circumstances.
 “The sad thing is always when the older people leave the group because they have passed on. We used to have my father and stepmother every year and then they left; then Ronald he went . . . . It is the changing of the guard,” Jean said, noting that the knowledge made the gatherings more special, and that they savoured the moments.
Gift-giving is a big part of the celebration and the tradition as well, and they make a list of people of family and friends, and other people who have been good to them, and present them with gifts.
Norma said they were also very big on sending Christmas cards, which she purchases from various charities around Barbados. They see it as a way of keeping up with friends and family, even if it’s only once a year. She is late with the mailing this time around, but Norma said they were more than 100 to be sent out.
“We like people. We make a lot of connections and we maintain them,” Jean explained.
He said it was “always a pleasure” to receive cards from people they would have gone to university with.
Jean said that, quite apart from the socialising, religion was a very central part of this particular celebration, which brings a totally different feel to the air and a change in how people treat each other generally.
“It is cooler. There is something in the atmosphere that tells me this is a different time, and I find it most enjoyable. From time to time, people, including my wife, have tried to get me to spend a Christmas in some [other place, but] I cannot easily be persuaded. I really love it here at Christmas.
“There is a peacefulness in the air, there is a certain calm, and there is a certain light. I really think that it is different, it really is,” he said, adding that they have lived in various parts of the world for extended periods, and had had enough.
“I’m also thinking that there is that spirit of goodwill, there is no doubt in my mind that people are more generous. You see people getting hampers for old people, the Salvation Army, and I think that it is good, because it gives you a chance to stop and reflect a little bit. “Even the thing about fixing up your house, spending more money than you need to – which I don’t do – I think it’s good. It’s a special time,” Norma added.