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As St Vincent and the Grenadines begins preparations for yet another celebration of its precious, and unique, NINE MORNINGS FESTIVAL, persons of my generation can be excused for reminiscing, fondly cherishing memories of the past. Over the years with the evolution of the society and hence the Festival itself, the name NINE MORNINGS has come to ring different bells to different generations, but I dare say the melody has not changed.

First of all, NINE MORNINGS heralded Christmas like no other time or event has done. Growing up, from months before, we would begin to check on what day the Festival would begin so you could know whether one or two Sundays would intervene, for the strict rule of no Nine Mornings on Sundays was observed. The Festival itself was like opening the proverbial Pandora’s box, such was the variety of activities that one could envelop oneself in with pleasure.

Of course, one’s age, and the tolerance of one’s parents defined the bounds of one’s activity in those days. The traditional Nine Mornings walk cut right across all ages though the younger and more active found all sorts of games and pranks to liven up the stroll. That stroll also helped to raise false expectations for in window shopping, desires almost always seemed to overtake financial reality, the yearning for the offerings in the show windows leading to frustration when parents could not afford to meet desires.

There was also the beach, an early sea bath being a healthy option. At a time when we had no electronic or internet options, our creativity was exercised in the variety of fun and games that were contrived and pursued. Some could be damaging even, such as the practice of encouraging persons to kick empty boxes, as if trying to score a goal, only to find out on contact, painfully, that the “empty” box was in fact laden with stones disguised.

It was not only stores that had Christmas decorations for in Kingstown, bike riders would ride around the War Memorial in town with their bikes as well decorated as the prettiest stores, and later roller skaters also adopted the practice.

But for Caribbean people, no matter how humble and meagre the means, one always had to have a bite. Raiding the bountiful fruit trees and, above all, finding a penny or two to purchase hot bread and cakes were Nine Mornings ‘musts’.

In this too, a major challenge was making a “round de clock”, going through the night without sleeping. This required food so helping ourselves to the ‘yardies’ (fowls) of neighbours to rustle up a pot, was an essential element in enduring the night. Luckily, it was considered a boyish prank in those days, not larceny of chickens as it would be today.

All this was enough to have one longing each year for Nine Mornings and Christmas, but for me, the big thing was the Nine Mornings fetes. I couldn’t wait to be old enough, (if not ever big enough), to go to those fetes, beginning at 3:00 a.m. and going until 6:00. Unfortunately the big barrier in the way was getting the princely entrance fee of 25c to get in.

The choice was fabulous – whether in venue, beginning with Club de Vinci, Peace Mo, Lodge (Oddfellows Lodge in Middle Street), Tavern, and, much later, Buck White’s disco in Edinboro and the spread to the rural areas starting with Calliaqua Town Hall; or, in choice of bands of the calibre of Syl McIntosh and Blue Rhythm, Frankie McIntosh and Symphonettes, Latinaires, various bands led by Robert ‘Patches’ King and Roland Sardine, and combos ranging from Volume Five to The Richards Bros., to Affetuousos and Resurrection. We were spoilt for choices, not just in bands but also privileged to be entertained by some of our best calypsonians / singers – Winston Soso, Cauldric Forbes for example.

One romantic element, later to be replicated after the shift to July Mas in 1977, was the return of Vincies from abroad for Nine Mornings. These were mainly Vincies living in Trinidad led by those doing military service in the T&T Defence Force (the ‘Regiment’) and sailors sailing on the Bulk ships those days. It was the forerunner on Vincies from North America coming for Carnival and was eagerly awaited.

It all made for an unforgettable mix, leaving my generation with treasured memories which will last forever. I hope current generations are similarly enthused about their experiences.

WHAT A NINE MORNINGS!

Editor’s Note: This article was first published in the SVG Nine Mornings commemorative magazine published earlier this month by SVG Nine Mornings Committee. The magazine is a collector’s item, replete with historic and anecdotal information about this unique Vincentian festival. The magazine is on sale at $20 per copy.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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