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Reflections on Christmas

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(Written on Christmas Day 2012)

So this is the big day; actually it is still morning. It rained earlier. No big thing; much better than the snow. How well I remember my first Christmas away from home. Then 21 years old, I had gone away to study and was living for the first year in one of the halls of residence. I had some pressing work to do and so decided to remain on campus and instead spend ‘New Year’ in New Jersey. Got up on Christmas morning, got organised and then went for breakfast. My first shock – a notice posted ‘Kitchen Closed’.{{more}} That really didn’t put me out. I could go to the restaurant just outside the university gates, although it meant braving the cold, which I normally feared, but after all it was breakfast. I completed the hundred yards, pushed the restaurant door which refused to surrender to me. Well, the only thing left to do was to go into town. A 50-minute wait and I was there. That was certainly not my day; no restaurant opened, a journey back to my room, not many people around. The Canadian students had gone home and most of the foreign students had taken up the offer to spend Christmas with a family. All that was left was my room and me. One hell of a Christmas that! Then the phone rang; a friend from St Kitts in another residence not too far away, who was facing a similar situation. Fortunately, the day before he had bought a bottle of wine and a cake. So, for the next few hours after, we sat in his room, drank wine and feasted on the cake. Cake never tasted better, because it was then about midday and outside was bitterly cold. I returned later to my room and actually cried when I recalled what a Vincy Christmas was like. My first Christmas away from home! I was determined never to get into a situation like that again. Sentimental! Perhaps!

So, now it is Christmas 2012, a different kettle of fish. A lot has happened since then. Vincy Christmas itself has changed. Very little serenading, the traditional carols are not heard as much; even Nine Mornings has changed. But these are different times, although some things will seemingly not go away. There still are weary mothers on Christmas morning that had spent Christmas Eve night designing and transforming their homes, so that even the smell was different. As young children it was difficult for us to believe that so much could have happened in one night and mainly by one woman. I hope that the fast food joints are closed today and that no one decided to have fast food for Christmas Day. If that happened, then we will know that we are lost; but I doubt that we have degenerated to that.

One of the criticisms we make of the Christmas season is that it has become very much commercialized, but this appears not to be new. On Boxing Day, 1912, the Times newspaper reported “…Traders complain that their takings this season were not as good as 1911 which must now be regarded as a record year.” So, the commercialization is not new. What is new is that commercialization has become so much a part of our daily lives that it will certainly be carried to its extreme during the Christmas season. Sparrow said not too long ago that “Capitalism gone mad.” But what is sad about this is that we tend to judge the success of the season on the extent of sales as reported by the merchants.

It is a good time to wonder if ultimately we will drive Christ away from Christmas. Who is it that sings the song about the Christmas party without Christ? He isn’t even there in spirit, although there was a lot of spirit around. I am reminded of a study which showed that some children, when asked where milk came from, answered confidently, the supermarket. The funny thing is that they are right and some perhaps honestly did not associate milk with cows. Is there a danger that Christmas will become associated with Santa or some other symbol and not with Christ, especially as the traditional carols are no longer very popular? I am not complaining about the many songs of Christmas with a Caribbean beat. They are ours and we like them, but many omit mention of Christ.

There has been criticism that Nine Mornings has been reduced to a street concert but over the years we have begun to recapture some of what it was really all about, adding some new things in the process; playing football and ping-pong on the streets, the traditional bike riding and particularly in the country, people recreating all sorts of things. We could really be a creative people, once given the chance. Window shopping used to be a big thing, but with such easy access to Kingstown on a daily basis and the influx of ads on radio and television, this has lost its attraction. We still have not been able to pin down the origin of “Nine Mornings”, but the 1920s/30s would seem a good bet.

Let us remember, too, as we reflect on Christmas, that we are in an era of change. Circumstances, the environment, technology, everything is in a process of change, and we will have to adapt and adjust the way we do things to accommodate these. So, tradition has a hard time surviving in this period of rapid change. We must remember this and realize that we can no longer continue to do things the way we used to, but we must try to stay on top of things and maintain some cultural base. It is this that will carry us through and identify who we are.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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