Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas in the Caribbean

Christmas is special, and very much so in the Caribbean. Not only do we enjoy warm weather when most of the rest of the world is cold, but we also have a way of making the season festive. For most of the past 10 years I have spent the season with my in-laws in Nassau; my wife has never spent Christmas anywhere else. The Bahamas has its unique way of celebrating Christmas and New Year, with the annual street parade-carnival, Junkanoo (see official web site).

Junkanoo is held on the mornings of "Boxing Day (December 26) and New Year's Day (January 1). The events usually last 7 to 8 hours and the participants ("rushers") are exhausted at the end, in part because some of them need some liquid sustenance to keep going; power bars alone don't cut it. We see some of their tired bodies on our way home for breakfast. Whether shaking bells, beating drums of playing brass the body gets a full work out. I have rushed once and it took me days to recover. It's better to be on the street to watch and listen and jump to the beat of the advancing bands, as the goombay drums pound. The bands have "colourful" names (such as "One Family", "Roots", "The Valley Boys", "Saxons", "Fancy Dancers", "Barabas and the Tribe"), and rivalries are intense even within families. Costumes are hand made and only last for one event. It is always a labour of love to cut, glue and paste the costumes and part of the buzz comes from starting a costume late and working madly to get everything finished before the parade. Last year, all hands were involved getting one of my sisters-in-law ready for her first rush.

In Barbados and Jamaica pantomime is still an regular feature of Christmas and we enjoyed a show put on by school children in Barbados before leaving on holiday.

Church is an important part of celebrating the season, and Christmas week will involve many visits to church. However, with little children to deal with we can't all make the late night masses, especially if watching Junkanoo on the streets is part of the plan. We love to sing carols and parties are even better if they have carol singing as well as food, drink and music. The traditional Christmas fare is something we all anticipate greatly: turkey, ham, peas and rice, macaroni pie, etc, plus the desserts like black cakes and guava duff. In Barbados they eat jug-jug and pudding (made from sweet potatoes). You have to accept that there will be a lot of eating and think about sweating off the pounds afterwards. Drinking alcohol in great quantities is done much less these days. But if there is egg nog on offer (whether "leaded" or "unleaded") then you have to take at least one glass.

Christmas is about families getting together and the airports are jammed with returning students and other family members in time for Christmas. They come and go with heavily laden bags. Of course shopping and gift giving take on enormous proportions during the season. But generosity is not limited to family and friends. Many of us will take the time to remember those who have been helpful, even in simply doing their jobs like garbage collectors. Some have developed plans to help families who are needy and have little to enjoy at Christmas.

People who live in North America and Europe love to visit the Caribbean at Christmas time. The weather is an obvious attraction: who could resist temperatures of 28 degrees Celsius, sandy beaches and a relaxed attitude, compared to zero (freezing), snow and ice, and a lot of stiffness? The "snow birds" fill the planes from New York, Toronto, and London, England. A lot of people travel the other way too, especially to Miami and Fort Lauderdale for shopping.We have had the good fortune of being able to take a vacation of at least two weeks every Christmas, and it has been a great time for decompression; our employers have had to understand that Christmas is the most important holiday for us and just deal with it. This year I will have been "off" for a month; taking time off is much easier when you work from home. I spent two weeks in Jamaica with my family (with whom I plan to spend Christmas next year), and will now spend the rest of the time in Nassau.

Children get the most out of Christmas and often cannot wait for Christmas Eve/Christmas Day. "Is Santa here yet, Mummy" is the daily wake up call. I will feed off their excitement.

Everyone who celebrates Christmas deserves to feel that it is a time when people should be especially kind. I hope that people can take that spirit a little bit longer into the new year.

I wish everyone a wonderfully merry Christmas and hope that all will have a very happy New Year.

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