The annual end of year season is here again among Guyanese and Atri is in the diaspora. The celebration of the season is etched in our memories growing up in beautiful Guyana and Trinidad especially during the 1970s and 80s and even earlier. The Guyanese and Trini year end season is a unique experience that people looked forward to with great expectation in the homeland and now in the diaspora even among those of guyanese origin abroad. The parents institutionalized the traditions of yesteryear in the former homeland.
In New York, memories are a powerful force influencing the celebration and enjoyment of the season. Some miss the Trini and Guyanese year end celebrations (Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year) so much that they opt to go “home” to be with relatives and relive the unique experience of the season. It brings so much joy to be home, and where not possible to make it a Guyanese or Trini celebration in America with all the flavors and sounds of the former homeland.
Although Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ around whom Christianity was built, non-Christians (Hindus and Muslims, for example) also celebrate the season with non-religious festivities in Guyana and Trinidad and in the diaspora. A Guyanese or Trini X-Mas was/is a secular-like holiday celebrated by all groups of people. And some of the secular activities associated with Christmas are also extremely popular among all groups all over the world — including baking, inviting neighbors and friends for a meal, gifting, feasting, exchanging cards, listening to music, watching parades and or bands, among others. In Guyana, or Trinidad, we used to go to the horse races or movies, visiting friends and relatives, etc. No horse racing in America on Christmas Day but there are sporting activities and parades.
In almost every Guyanese or Trini American home, regardless of religious background, there is a Trini or Guyanese flavored Christmas. Christmas offers the opportunity for renewal within the home and yard – Homes are remodeled. Yards are decorated with Christmas trees and colorful lights. The lawns were immaculately kept similar to tree trunks being white washed or painted in Guyana and Trinidad. Status determined the luxury of the tree, its lighting and decorations. Some were brightly illuminated in Guyana and Trinidad and the same is observed in New York. Homes in Indo Caribbean enclaves in New York engage in unofficial competition for the best “decorated/lit” title just as they do in Guyana and Trinidad.
Christmas in Guyana or Trinidad produces a special feeling that is associated with certain sounds (music – both religious and secular, western and Indian Bollywood, church bells, special radio programs). And the same is true in NY. One also hears the horns, whistles, bells, popping toy guns, crying dolls of children. The odor was that of curry and massala dishes or baked products, bread, cake, pastries, ginger beer, sorrel, mauby, pine drink, etc.). The looks on the faces of kids were that of joy and of adult one got friendliness (expressed in smiles, handshakes, hugs and pecks on the cheeks, etc.). Expressions were those of Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
In neighborhoods across Guyana and in Guyanese communities in New York, aromatic scent wafts in the air and all the decorations and trimmings brighten up entire neighborhoods. In the past, people sent Christmas cards to each other and to relatives and friends around the world. Today, they whats app and text (on facebook, instagram, messenger, etc.
In the not so distant past, Christmas time was associated with radio messages from loved ones in North America and UK. People called one another at Christmas time. Most of the international calls were from America, Canada, UK as we could not afford the cost (US $5 a minute in the 1970s, as an example, because of the monopolistic socialist system). But today many calls originate from Guyana as calls cost as low as five US cents – thanks to capitalism and telecom competition.
No Guyanese Christmas was without special music. Christmas carols were very popular – the same ones we now hear in North America. They were played on the radio stations; TV is a new phenomenon since the late 1980s. Businesses advertise their Christmas goods and services early and as such radio and radio stations started Christmas programming much sooner than in North America — around mid-November right after Diwali and Eid celebrations that fell near the season.
People went to church services for Christmas especially on Christmas Eve and many visited the towns for snacks. There were nativity plays at churches. Church members also performed as carol singers. Some people went to church on Christmas morning.The season is associated with giving gifts — to relatives, friends, associates, children, and the needy at Christmas. Children were told that their gifts were brought by Father Christmas and that they should hang socks. Santa brought gifts which were opened in the morning. All of these traditions remain intact in Guyana and are also extended into the NY diaspora community.Merry X-Mas!