“Whatever happened to Christmas scrubbers?”


Nation reader and letter writer Luther G. Francis asked the question obliquely a few days ago – whatever happened to the Christmas time scrubbers?

Even the term may seem alien to a younger generation but in the Barbados of old, scrubbers were in every country district. And no… they did not actually scrub – they sang. Read his yuletide reminisce below.

Celebrations started in earnest in the dark of Christmas Eve in times when country districts were yet without street lights.

Scrubbers would commence their itinerary and could be heard singing somewhere in the deep.

Children waited with just as much zeal and anxiety as those anticipating Santa Claus to come down the chimney, but the scrubbers always seemed to take too long to reach their house, so many of them were overcome by sleep.

Eventually, they arrived and the household was awakened by them turning up right under the window. Sometimes they were not even known; their identities were shielded by the darkness.

They sang their carols and speechified, but you knew their real desire even though they did not say it directly, so you would fix them up with a combination of what little you could afford of money, Christmas fare and more to drink.

They delivered and so did you, so in verse, they thanked the master and mistress of the house and off into the night they journeyed to the next selected link.

Not anymore will this aspect of Yuletide celebrations be featured, though the world continues in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing and hail the ever-blessed morn; no longer upon the midnight clear will scrubbers bring that glorious song of old: “Peace on earth, goodwill to men from Heaven’s all gracious King”.


Midnight mass


Fortunately, built on the sound foundation of Christianity, God forbid that the customary mass at midnight, celebrated in churches religiously, should ever become something of a past offering.

Development might have brought about the demise of the scrubbers; maybe dislocation and migration from the districts to the elevation of the heights and terraces behind closed gates hastened their passing.

It could be that the old scrubbers outgrew this pastime or departed without handing down the art to understudies.

Their disappearance from the scene seemed to coincide with the installation of lights across the land that exposed their identities.

Districts, cut off somewhat from each other in those days, were known to commemorate Christmas Day and make merry in their unique way; this ceased in time now almost immemorial, so it is goodbye to the scrubbers and, with them, there goes with regret the death of yet another Christmas custom that was once traditional.

– by Luther G. Francis