Submitted by Heather Cole
I do not have to close my eyes to remember Christmas Carols on the radio. However, I have a passion to hear live music being played by a band and next to the Black Fingers Band of my childhood years, my next favourite was the Royal Barbados Police Band. Christmas mornings in Queens Park would have been boring without them. To me they were the highlight, the icing on the Christmas cake.
Christmas in Barbados is an event. The preparations start sometimes before Independence Day which is on November 30th. December 1st started a mad scramble in Barbados because no matter what was to be done, it was to be done for Christmas.
Little as I was, like everyone else I had something to do in preparation for the big day. I help scrubbed the floors, we brought sand from the beach in little skillets which were as much as I could carry, and we would sprinkle it in the yard. We cleaned the furniture; wash all the porcelain dishes and glasses that we never used. They just had to be cleaned for Christmas.
Soda bottles or sweet drink bottles were washed and put in cases. We bought whole cases of these drinks, wine, ham and lots of fruits. Getting many presents were not really the big thing in my family, we were content to get that new outfit to go to Queens Park to be on parade just like everyone else.
So imagine waking up on Christmas morning and it is cold outside, the sand on the ground made it look like snow or sort of, and there is the fragrant smell of the lady-in-the night coming in from the bush by the front window and added to it all, the smell of baked ham and freshly baked bread, cake and pudding. The house is spotlessly clean, new curtains are hanging; everything looks polished and brand-new inside. Outside, the poinsettia is reigning in its glory, its red flowers putting everything else in the shade.
We woke up early to go to church, which started at 5 a.m. I can remember it used to be as if I had just closed my eyes and I would hear my mother calling me to get up. When we walked through the woods I was more asleep that awake in the crisp morning air. Sunrise would greet us in church and it was only when you got outside that you could really see what the other people were wearing. After church my cousins took us to catch the first bus to Bridgetown and from there, we walked to Queens Park.
Everyone went to the park to show off their new clothes on Christmas morning. It was the thing to do. Like everyone else, we would stroll up and down the pathways; seeing what everyone else was wearing. We bought glazed candied apples or fresh apples if we did not want the candied ones.
To top it all, was the music the band played. It set the atmosphere for that pleasant day. Rather in my mind, it was as though the music cast a spell. William Shakespeare wrote that “all the world is a stage, and all the men and women mere players: they have their exits and entrances…” he failed to mention an orchestra that directed the activities on the stage.
If he was alive in my early years and saw what I had seen through my eyes, I am sure that he would have agreed with me for I saw the orchestra Shakespeare did not see. The Royal Barbados Police Band seemed to me to be performing a symphony that heralded the part of each player that came onto the stage that was the park.
There was music for everybody. They played marches, carols, traditional songs and other popular songs. All throughout the performances of this great event, the music played. At curtain call when the music stopped, all the actors, dressed in their finest clothes bowed and disappeared.
All my Christmases were not filled with music and excitement. There is a time that stands out in my mind when my mother did not have enough to fill our lives with excitement. That year Christmas was bare of all the preparations and clearing the cobwebs in my mind, we must have wondered why she was not bringing home any packages; she did not bring home any port wine, no falernum, no ham or flour to bake sweat breads. She did not even talk about what we would wear on Christmas morning.
Through it all, I remained hopeful but by Christmas morning I was sad. That day all she prepared was a simple meal, it was all that she could afford. It was a good thing that my uncle came by as he usually did at Christmas to bring ham, sweet bread and drinks and it made us happy. However, the memory of those goodies was fleeting, lasting no longer than a snow-cone.
What I will forever remember apart from our bleak meal is the story my mother told us on that Christmas Day. It was a story that an old man had told her of the Christmas Day that he had nothing to offer to his family. Zander is what we called him, but I believe that his real name was Alexander Yarde. He was a small farmer who worked a quarter acre of land behind our house. The year in reference must have been a difficult one. I do not recall if my mother told us the circumstances but when Christmas Day arrived, Zander did not have one red cent to buy anything for his wife and family. All he had were canes in the field. He made a swing with rope and a piece of wood and hoisted it from a tree. They sucked their bellies full of sugar cane juice that day and took turns on the swing all day long. There was such laughter and happiness that it turned out to be one of the most memorable days that they had ever experienced as a family.
From that, I knew that our plight was not new; it was not desolation it was not the end of the world and like my mummy said there will be good times and bad times; ours just happened to be on that Christmas Day.
Joseph on the first Christmas Day had nothing to offer to his wife or his first-born son. If you are fortunate enough to have more than you need this Christmas, please share with those who have lost their jobs, with the single mothers and their children. Remember the shut ins, those with children far away, the homeless, the desolate, the lonely and those in need of care. Put a sparkle in a child’s eyes as my uncle did long ago when I thought that all was lost. Have a Merry Christmas!