Christmas is the most celebrated of all festivals in Guyana, the Caribbean, and among Guyanese and Caribbean people in the diaspora. The Guyanese, Trini, and Caribbean Christmas bring back a lot of memories as a child and even as an adult. It is most difficult to replicate the Guyanese or Caribbean Christmas in communities in North America and UK but the traditions remain strong in households in their preparation of snacks, cakes, meals, drinks and decorations.
People, children in particular, had a most lovely time in Guyana, Trinidad or in the rest of the Caribbean region during the season in the old days (pre-1990s in Guyana, when name brands began to dominate the Guyanese and Caribbean environment). Unlike in North America and Canada, when the celebration was just a few days around Christmas and Old Years and New Years, in Guyana, the celebration lasted a couple of weeks – a week before Christmas and right through New Years. The North American and European X-Mas which is short and lacks all the niceties of a Guyanese X-Mas – such as the warmth, togetherness, friendship, love, smell, sound, and taste of the season. The season was usually one of expectancy and excitement with children looking forward for it and having a joyous time on the last day of school right thru New Years.
Adults took a keen interest in planning activities to welcome the celebration for their children and relatives in the diaspora. In Guyana, there was shortage of basic items for the holiday season pre-1990. People were prohibited from consuming imported items. Nevertheless, people do with the limitations.
People made preparation weeks before the holiday season. Artificial flowers were taken out of storage and used in decoration of the home. The few electric lights received from abroad were put on display and lit up if there was no blackout which was an almost daily occurrence. When Guyanese prayed during the 1970s and 1980s and asked God to show the light, they really meant it as electricity was not available.
Nevertheless, some homes had flickering multi-coloured lights which line the windows and entrance to the home and which attracted onlookers. Houses engaged in an unofficial competition for the title of the best decorated and most lit home in the neighborhood and the youths being the judges talking days about their experiences.
The youths were excited about the season because they got new clothes to go to the cinemas or horse racing or for the ride to town on Christmas Eve or for a fete or just for the New Year. On Christmas or New Year’s Eve people go out for snacks or shopping. But people were contented with inexpensive garment or footwear and their general lifestyle.
During the last week of work before Christmas, offices in Georgetown would hold parties for their staff. Schools would also hold parties for kids; balloons, candies, cakes and drinks are distributed. Students would sing carols and there used to be school concerts. And at the Christian schools in the mornings during the weeks before Christmas, students would sing carols. On weekends, and on Christmas Eve, churches would hold nativity plays and candle light services with young people. Also on Christmas Eve, parents would take their children to the city for window shopping, or to purchase toys, or to have ice-cream and other and other goodies. There is no such experience in NYC for the youths.
And before children went to bed, they were told to hang socks and to make a promise never again to use profanity or behave badly for Santa to give them gifts. And lo and behold when they wake up in the morning, there are small gifts in their socks.
For the young, Christmas Eve excitement was at fever pitch with the baking of the cake and bread. The fresh bread usually went well with Dutch head cheese and soft drinks or sorrel or ginger beer or mauby. Cake was baked around this time after dried imported fruits (raisins, currants, cherries, citrus, prunes) minced and soaked well in advance, around August. A large cast iron mince mill, bolted to the end of a table was used to grind the mixture. It was soaked for mixing the delicious black cake which was washed down with drinks. Sponge and other non-alcoholic fruit cake was also made.
No Christmas was without masquerade bands (musicians with mouth organ, a flute and drums) – men dressed in skirts with live extempo music – which would go street to street and house to house to dance and receive donations. The young would have a terrific time and the extra money would come in handy to purchase goodies.
And during the festival, children would make their own fireworks from the tin of carbon which when lighted set off a bang, much like that of a firecracker. Steel wool, dipped in kerosene, and lit provides local fireworks. For X-Mas, there was a lot of food and merry making with children running around playing with toys.
Those were the good old times of youths celebrating the season in Guyana – with peace, tranquility, love and respect for adults not like today when parents complain of mistreatment at hands of children.