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Continuing the ‘Nine Mornings’ conversation: Perhaps there is indeed cause to celebrate; not 100 years, but longer. Perhaps!

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I had been doing some serious reflection since the announcement was made about the commemoration of 100 years of “Nine Mornings”. Like most Vincentians, I would like to know how and when this unique festivity started.{{more}}

As an historian, I am perturbed. It is highly conceivable that once we celebrate the 100th anniversary of “Nine Mornings,” it will then become part of our historical records and scholars and persons generally will in future be guided by this. I could well imagine a CXC student doing an SBA on “Nine Mornings” and declaring authoritatively that it started in 1913. What was of more concern was how it was arrived at: “the records from the church itself suggest that the date of 1913 was the most probable date hence the embracing of 1913…as far as we can determine based on all accounts that is the closest we can come to an approximation and starting date hence this year is a special year.”

I am, for one, not convinced about its relationship with the Catholic Novena. I stated already that the Catholic religion was a minority religion in St Vincent; that Kingstown in 1911 had less than 2,000 persons residing there. This is linked with the other view that the planters brought their slaves or workers with them when they were going to church and they then had the opportunity to walk about the town. If this is part of the association with the Catholic Novena, then we have to face the fact that the majority of planters were Anglicans, not Catholics. Those who were not Anglicans were likely to have been associated with the Church of Scotland. I have not heard it said yet that the Anglicans or the Church of Scotland held divine services in the early mornings just before Christmas.

I felt that the best clue to pinning down the “Nine Mornings” mystery was to look at the regulations relating to bands and singing processions around the Christmas period. I first looked at 1935. A notice dated December 10 by the Chief of Police stated: “Bands, singing processions and other holiday gatherings will be permitted in the town of Kingstown and other towns from Saturday the 21st December 1935 to Thursday the 2nd day of January 1936 from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. (Sundays excepted) except on Wednesday and Thursday the 25th and 26th December 1935, New Year’s Day and the 2nd of January 1936 when the time shall be extended from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. provided that there be a cessation during the hours of divine service on Christmas Day.”

This surprised me. The riots had taken place in October of that year. McIntosh’s trial ended on December 11, following which the authorities strictly regulated the hours when businesses were to be closed. They also closely monitored gatherings of people on the streets at particular times. Was it that this early morning activity had become so established that they dared not interfere with it? Along with this was my surprise that I had seen nothing in the newspapers or any other kind of literature about this unique activity. Was it so established then that the people of the day had no reason to comment on it? So, I continued my search and went back to 1899.

That year, the period allowed was from December 18 to 6th January, and interestingly, from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m., except on Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and the following day, when the time was to be extended from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. “providing that there be a cessation on Christmas Day during the hours of Divine Service.” I was unable to find any notices regulating Christmas festivities iningstown for 1893 and could not locate information for the years 1894 to 1898. The latest date I looked at was 1950 and it followed the pattern of the others, except that the time given was from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. and was to last from 18th December to Tuesday, 2nd January – except on Sundays, Christmas Day and Boxing Day and on January 1st and 2nd, when the time was extended from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Looking at the period from 1899 to 1950, the period when activity was allowed in the towns ranged roughly from 11 to 15 days, that is subtracting Sundays after the 1930s and the public holidays.

It is of interest too that until the 1930s the times ran from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. It appeared also that until the 1930s the festivity could have been held on a Sunday.

What stands out is that the activities ran into the New Year, with the hours extended on the day after New Year. Is this “Nine Mornings” or rather the genesis of “Nine Mornings”? “Nine Mornings,” as we know it today, runs up to Christmas Day, so at some time a change was made, if we are to be guided by this.

Do we put emphasis on the nine days or the reality of a festivity starting at that time of morning, which is what is unique about it? Certainly we cannot look at the start of our June- July Carnival celebrations and deem this the origin of our Carnival. Over the years changes would have taken place and these should not detract from the origins. There is still more research to be done. When precisely did these early morning celebrations start? When did they become associated with the nine mornings before Christmas? Certainly this would have happened after 1950 if we in fact decide to take our cue from the regulations that were published annually. What did the people do on those early mornings, particularly in the 1890s? It will be interesting to know but let us for now not unilaterally declare a starting date.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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