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Make use of our precious jewel – Vincy Christmas

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I must add my commendation to those who have worked so hard for the revival of our precious ‘Nine Mornings’ festival, a unique celebration which speaks volumes for the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines. The festival continues to grow in popularity and is rapidly becoming a major drawing card for visitors to our multi-island state.{{more}}

Those of my generation would have witnessed the evolution of the festival over the last half century or so. Beginning from its humble roots of early morning church services, walks, sea bathing, ‘Nine Mornings’ became an important outlet for our innovativeness, as exemplified in the lighting up of bicycles parading in the centre of the capital city, and the skills of those with access to roller skates. It gave rise to the flowering of musical talents, with a multiplicity of fetes in Kingstown at places which have become legendary in the minds of those old enough to experience them, but which are virtually unknown to the younger generation. ‘Club de Vincent’, ‘Peace Mo’, ‘Lodge’, ‘Conway House’, ‘Tavern’ were some of the venues which hosted these activities before the discos took over the role later.

One important observation from those days, of much relevance to today’s happenings, was the role of Vincentians living and working abroad. In those days, Trinidad was to these islands what the USA has become today. Thus, Vincentians living there would return home for the Christmas and feature prominently in ‘Nine Mornings’. These included the much-anticipated sojourn of the ‘Regiment boys’, Vincentians who had been part of the Caribbean’s only regional armed force, the West India Regiment, based in Jamaica, but who, after the collapse of the West Indies Federation in 1962, chose to emigrate to Trinidad to help to establish the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment when that country became independent. Another welcome returning contingent later was that made up of the ‘Bulk men’, young men who were employed worldwide as sailors by Bulk Shippers and whose spending sprees provided an important cash flow for the Christmas season.

Though the fetes started in Kingstown, like the Nine Mornings activities of today, they were not confined to the urban areas and spread to other outlying districts like Calliaqua and Stubbs, for example. In addition, ‘Nine Mornings’ also had a street fete component, with pan being the hub. The contributions of legends of the pan movement, like Woodley, Cardo and Tanny,will long be remembered, taking revellers on the streets after the genius of the various McIntosh offspring had twinkled many feet in the fete halls.

A multiplicity of factors led to the demise of ‘Nine Mornings’, among them being the growing occurrence of violent incidents. To be fair, those incidents pale into insignificance compared with the deadly ones of today, but which had aroused much concern in the society of those days. Gradually, the popularity of ‘Nine Mornings’ began to wane and it is to the credit of people like Robert ‘Patches’ Knights and Sebastian ‘Bassy’ Alexander, among others, that revival was in the offing.

Today’s ‘Nine Mornings’ does not much resemble the original variety, but has experienced a spectacular rise in popularity, among Vincentians and visitors alike. It is clear that we possess a precious jewel, even though we seem as yet unsure as to how best to maximize the benefits from it. Increasingly, the festival is becoming a drawing card for Vincentians living overseas and non-Vincentian visitors. It has become the cog around the unique Vincy Christmas activities which give our country its special place.

Unlike the original, fete-based, alcohol-plagued and sometime violence-marred predecessor, today’s festival appeals to a much broader range of people and is an outlet for the flowering of cultural talents. It also enjoys a wide geographical spread to many rural communities. Given that, and the growth of Christmas carolling, lighting up of communities and other related-events, St Vincent and the Grenadines is in an excellent position for a major marketing initiative to promote the Festival and give a major boost to tourism.

We must seize the time and take advantage of our unique situation. For instance, Tourism authorities can commission and produce a promotional video, backed by the splendid range of Christmas music that we have, courtesy of the Bowmans, CP, Becket and others, combining elements of the ‘Nine Mornings’ activities, beach-bathing, carolling contests, lighting-up, and other traditional aspects of Vincy Christmas, to market our country as a major destination for a special Christmas experience. We are in the process of building an international airport at Argyle, scheduled for completion by 2013. How opportune if we could link the opening of this new gateway to an enjoyment of the Vincy Christmas experience!

HAVE A PEACEFUL AND BLESSED CHRISTMAS!

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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