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Nine Mornings: A peculiar privilege of Vincentian patrimony

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On December 15, 2016, the vast majority of Vincentians will go to bed. Some will go early; others late. And a few will not go to sleep at all. However, all across this land of ours, lights will flicker and go out, voices will fade into sleep, and the night will be cradled by a cascade of sounds – impatient insects calling out to mates, hooting owls hunting food, a barking dog here or there, and perhaps a lonely car belching its way home on our empty streets.

But in the early morning hours of December 16, 2016, St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) will experience a phenomenon that is without parallel anywhere else in the world. In a world of seven billion people and over two hundred countries, we are the only country where on December 16, many of its people will rise as early as 3 a.m., pour forth from their homes, and begin to celebrate the coming of Christmas for nine straight days.{{more}} It is, quite literally, a national awakening. And consistent with the Vincentian wisdom to call a thing simply what it is, we have named this nine-day pre-Christmas celebration: Nine Mornings.

Last Sunday night, thousands of Vincentians serenaded the coming of this year’s Nine Mornings celebration. Young and old, male and female, Vincentians from all walks of life thronged the streets of Kingstown with a fantastic parade of songs, dance, and gaiety, accompanied by the pulsating sounds of the brass bands of police and cadets, and the steel pan music of our pannists, ringing out melodies of Christmas.

No one knows the precise moment or circumstances which gave birth to SVG’s unique celebration of Christmas. Some have suggested that it harkens back to the 19th century when enslaved Africans reconstituted and re-deployed African traditions of festivities to give public expression to their own beliefs that their lives were sacred. Others have seen these celebrations as the creation of a distinctive 20th century Vincentian Christian culture that blended European Christian novena traditions with African rituals of public joy.

All explanations of origin, however, centre attention on an indisputable fact: whether expressed through our sacred rites, or performed through our secular rituals, Vincentians have genuflected to the principle of affirming the value of our lives and the bonds of community by celebrating the birth of Christ. So, today, in every community, we invite our children to join in a range of activities featuring so much that is precious to us. We eat Vincentian foods; we sing Vincentian songs; we host a range of civic minded activities designed to deepen our appreciation of Vincentian culture, strengthen our sense of our history, and connect us to our communities. We go to Vincentian churches. We do all these things as a prelude to joining the global Christian community celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25. And we have been doing this for more than 100 years.

This longevity carries a virtue that is beyond the control of any individual organization, or government. Because over the course of the last 100 years we have witnessed colonial governors come and go. We have seen premiers and prime ministers come and go. We have also seen world wars, revolutions, and great economic disruptions. And of course, we have witnessed hurricanes, earthquakes, and massive volcanic eruptions that would shake SVG to its very core.

But through this all, our Nine Mornings traditions have not only survived; they have thrived. They have done so because under the shelter of our divine devotions, successive generations have woven a tapestry of reverence for Christmas so uniquely Vincentian that they have moved Nine Mornings beyond the ownership of any single religious denomination. Instead, it has become the patrimony of all Vincentians, both believers and non-believers.

To acknowledge Nine Mornings as a national gift bequeathed to us by our parents is also to recognize our own solemn obligation to pass on this legacy to our own children. Granted, we cannot guarantee that Nine Mornings 30 years hence would be celebrated in the same way we do today. And we do know that over the decades different generations of Vincentians have brought their own unique perspective to their celebrations of Nine Mornings. But what we hope and believe must endure is that uniquely Vincentian practice of according special status and reverence to the Christmas season.

We treasure the fact that this tradition of faith and culture is unique to us. Hence, as we honour this history and as we re-dedicate ourselves anew to this year’s celebration, Vincentians should find comfort in knowing that we share a special covenant with our ancestors: to mould and protect this peculiar privilege of Vincentian patrimony that separates us from every other country in the world.

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