THE holiday season started about a month ago. I suppose that it will continue into the new year. The observance and celebrations of the holiday season is, of course, western-rooted, and oriented. For this reason, I use “holiday season” to capture all the manifestations of the holidays with the intent not to exclude any. However, individuals from all levels of society do celebrate and enjoy the holiday season. For example, Hindus in India and Guyana do celebrate Christmas.
On a personal note, I have been celebrating the holidays ever since I could remember. Since the early 1980s, I have expanded how and where I celebrate the holidays. My reason for this is simple. My life has been shaped by religion, migration, and occupation. I was born in a Hindu home. I out-migrated from Guyana in 1982. I attended college in the United States and accepted a faculty position at various universities.
So, when I celebrate and write about the holidays, all the above creeps into my mind. However, I will share three experiences that might align with your own. I start with the most immediate in terms of location. American Thanksgiving has ended a month ago in the U.S. and since then the glittering lights have been up while the snow has been coming down, forming a scenic wonder, until it starts to melt into an unattractive slush. I must admit that I am a tropical person, and so, the combination of lights and snow at night, whether in the streets, houses, or trees, continues to fascinate me here in upstate New York. I do remember studying poems of snow in high school in tropical Berbice. How strange of an experience it was to be reading and learning about snow in a place where it never exists? Do I like the wintry weather? I say no. I was impressed, nonetheless, with this part of a stanza from “Snow in Suburbs” by Thomas Hardy taught to me by Ms. Sirmati Persaud in high school:
Every branch big with it,
Bent every twig with it;
Every fork like a white web-foot;
Every street and pavement mute
The imagery, as Ms. Persaud describes it, contrasts with my other experience of spending the holidays on St. Croix. It is still memorable. I am not referring to the beautiful beaches, brilliant sunshine, and Christmas carnivals. They are extravagant events so much so that have certainly captivated the thousands of tourists who visit the island. I am referring to the musical/scratch band named Stanley and Ten Sleepless Knights that uses instruments such as bass conga drum, steel (triangle), squash (gourd rasp), flute, guitar to play quelbe music that speaks to the historical and contemporary experiences of Virgin Islanders. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings website posits that “Quelbe is the official music style of the Virgin Islands, characterized by call-and-response singing and drumming, accompanied by African-influenced dance. Band members of Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights share personal stories about the importance of Quelbe music, their role in the community, and their journey to get to where they are.”
What has impressed me about this band during the holiday season is that for the past 30 years the band members would wake up at 03:00 hrs every day, two weeks before Christmas, and start playing quelbe music on the back of a moving trailer from one end of the island to [the] other until the sun rises. I have never heard everyone complaining that the band was disturbing their sleep. In fact, people, including my family, would wake up and wait for the band to pass by their home, and it was not uncommon to see bystanders handing them all sorts of holiday treats as they moved gracefully through the narrow streets of St. Croix delighting the atmosphere with their special carols like Jingle Bells, and Guavaberry. It is a unique tradition on St. Croix that I have never experienced.
But what about the holiday season in our dear land of Guyana? If you are a Guyanese reading this article, you must be, like me, touched by the adage that there is no place like home for the holidays. Of all the places I have been in Guyana during the year-end holiday season, Christmas Eve night at Corriverton still is a gem. On this night, the town comes alive matching any other Caribbean town as people from all ethnicity and age from the surrounding villages pour in as if they are escaping from something with the hope of cascading themselves and their families into a whole new world that requires impromptu preparation. From around 07:00 pm to 01:00 am, the town of Corriverton is unchecked by activities that consist of strolling, dancing, eating, drinking, and colourful costumes. It appears to me like a public theatre cream and climax by merriment, splendors, and exuberance, and yes, the availability of all traditional food such as black pudding. All this goes on in midst of Christian church services, and the sounding rhythms of the long-gone local artists of the region like Mocom, Barrow and Hurdle. And so, whenever I hearken to Christmas Eve at Corriverton I am reminded that there is no place like home during the holidays. Happy holidays, be safe (firstname.lastname@example.org).