Caribbean Currents: No substitutes for certain island rites of Christmas

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A report from the Philadelphia Tribune.

Christmas 2016 is here! Feelings of excitement, feelings of anticipation, feelings of loneliness and feelings of longing. All of these feelings are invoked by the holidays.

It is safe to say that most Caribbean people have one thing in common this time of the year. They miss the families left behind. They miss those things that are nearest and dearest to their hearts.

“I miss the warm Jamaican sunshine” said Barbara Wilson, president of the Caribbean Festival Committee, a local Caribbean organization. “The cold weather gets in the way of my enjoyment and I don’t feel as free, mainly because I have to wear a hat, gloves and coat, I feel very restricted.

“I miss the Christmas morning activities, like getting up at dawn to attend Christmas morning services and returning home as the sun rises to welcome Christmas day,” she said. “Christmas in America is so commercialized. It is all about material things, mostly focused on giving and receiving gifts.”

Wilson shared that the focus on gifts was a distraction for her, noting it does not compare to spending quality time with family and friends.

“I must mention that I miss the foods back home. Of course one can buy these items in the local markets in the United States. However, it does not compare to the fresh produce in the islands. The taste is so much better.

“I love to enjoy a fresh glass of sorrel with a slice of rum cake and just chill with everyone. Hmm hmm, so good! I miss it,” she added..

Yvonne O’Garro, who hails from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, is a founding member of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Organization of Pennsylvania.

“I miss celebrating Christmas back home,” said O’Garro. “I especially miss the nine-morning celebration.”

“Nine mornings before Christmas the celebrations begin, villages sponsor various activities, people hang out on the beaches. There are different competitions at these events therefore people travel from one event to the next,” she explained. “The Christmas decorations always thrills my heart.”

O’Garro, like Wilson, enjoyed the cultural foods of her homeland. She savored drinking ginger beer, sorrel, eating black cakes and Christmas ham.

“I am not alone in missing St. Vincent this time of year. Twelve members of the SVGOP missed home so much that they decided to spend Christmas 2016 there. I wish I was there also,” O’Garro said.

“I know they will all go out on the town on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas. Of course going to the movies is always the main event. There was always a special movie around Christmas – I wonder what’s showing this year?” she said.

Winsome Davis of Upper Darby, outside of Philadelphia, exclaimed “in cold weather like this I can’t help but miss the warm sunshine,”

I often think about star apples, sweet sop, nesberries and June plums. She too said that “we can get the same fruits here but the taste is not the same as in the islands.”

In addition to Christmas carols, there are so many Christmas songs that are sung in the Caribbean as well as poetry and spoken word. Many Christmas carols are put to a Caribbean beat one can’t help but clap their hands and stump their feet.

During the Christmas holidays people go to visit neighbors and friends, from house to house, sampling the rum cake, the jerked pork and jerked chicken and of course the curried goat and ox-tails. The next day, Boxing Day is family time, when people go to beach parties, barbecues and have lots of fun.

We do not want it to seem as if we, as Caribbean immigrants, do not love our new homeland because we most certainly do love America. The fact still remains that for many of the older generation, experiencing Christmas in the Caribbean cannot be compared to Christmas anywhere else in the world. We have those cherished moments that we can tell stories about and pass down from generation to generation.

Have a safe and wonderful holiday season!

One Love.

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