Vincentians and other Caribbean nationals in Brooklyn on Thanksgiving Saturday reminisced about Christmas at home, as the United Vincie Cultural Group of Brooklyn (UVCGB) brought much nostalgia with its annual Christmas Serenade.
The event — which, over the years, took place at the Miracle Temple Ministries, an evangelical church in the Brownsville, Brooklyn, where several UVCGB members worship — took place this year, for the first time, at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center in Brooklyn.
UVCGB members and members of the community participated in Saturday’s event by rendering wistful Christmas songs, reflecting on Christmas preparations at home and dramatizing Christmas themes, among other things.
“If you want to remember Christmas, you have to come to country (the country side),” said St. Vincent and the Grenadines Consul General to the United States, Howie Prince, before singing “Silver Bells” with UVCGB President Dr. Roxie Irish and president of the Brooklyn-based St. Vincent and the Grenadines Diaspora Committee of New York, Sherrill-Ann Mason-Haywood.
Prince later sang Kenny Rogers’ “Greatest Gift of All,” then team up with Winston “Mr. Positive” DeFreitas in singing “O Holy Night.”
“Anything you need to have, come to country,” added Prince, who hails from the “country” village of Lowmans Windward in the South Central Windward constituency in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. “However, all over the world it’s the same thing. Whether you like parang, Christmas is Christmas.”
Author Caren DeFreitas, Winston’s wife, who served as Mistress of Ceremonies, reminded patrons of Christmas celebrations of yesteryear.
“Christmas is that special day, with the linoleum and the painting,” she said. “Who could remember the cocoa tea and the cinnamon stick and the bay leaf (spice)? Whenever you hear of a Vincy Christmas celebration, find yourself there.”
Michele Douglas captivated the audience, evoking loud applause, in reciting the “12 Days of Christmas” Vincy-style, which she composed with other patrons at her table — Deonne Crichton-Bailey (president of the Brooklyn-based St. Vincent and the Grenadines Nurses Association of New York, Inc.), Crichton-Bailey’s cousin Hazel Crichton, and Kesta Charles.
All, except Charles, hails from the Central Leeward town of Layou in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Charles is originally from the nearby Central Leeward town of Barrouallie.
The group’s Vincy-style “12 Days of Christmas” focuses on local products — golden apples, fried jack fish, tri-tri cakes, Julie mangoes, black fish crips, tamarind balls, sugar cakes, coconut fudge, farine, sunset rum and doucana (a pastry with sweet potato as the main ingredient).
The refrain after each item is: “And a roast breadfruit in a paper bag.”
A “Caribbean Choir” — directed by Ingrid “Monique” Neverson, a former netballer and member of the Brooklyn-based group, VincyCares, Inc. — sang “Silent Night.”
Sezzie Goodluck sang “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and evangelist Shirley Browne belched out “That’s What Christmas Means to Me” and “O Holy Night.”
Three members of Trinity Methodist Church, on Eastern Parkway, near Utica Avenue in Brooklyn, re-enacted “We Three Kings;” Donna Ash sang “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” and “Raindrops and Roses;” Zita Adams bellowed Jim Reeves’ “Old Christmas Card” and Neverson sang the melodious “One Christmas Eve.”
The UVCGB band played “Silver Bells,” among other Caribbean Christmas melodies, and UVCGB members rendered a much-spirited “Joy to the World,” bringing the house down with a rapturous “Ah Want Ah Piece Ah Pork Fo Me Christmas” and “Christmas, Christmas, We Wish You a Merry, Merry Christmas.”
In reflecting on the true meaning of Christmas, Dr. Irish said it is based on “the fact that Christ came for us.”
“For United Vincie Cultural Group of Brooklyn, find someone to give blessings to,” she urged. “Be kind, be helpful, be a servant. If you don’t do something else this Christmas, give to someone.”
Prince echoed those sentiments: “In the vein of the United Vincie Cultural Group of Brooklyn, give something back.”