A Christmas Story — Part 1


Not even the crush of travelers pushing this way and that, trying to be the first to get their luggage off the carousal, was going to disturb Icilyn Banton. The gray-haired grandmother was in a merry mood. Arriving in Toronto for the first time in six years, she was looking forward to spending a ‘white Christmas’ with her son and his family. She said goodbye to friends and family before making the journey from St. Catherine, but she wouldn’t miss Christmas in Jamaica this year, especially since daughter-in-law, Maria, is expected to give birth to a third child after the Christmas season.

“Purpose for your visit?”


“Do you have anything to declare, ma’am?”

The customs officer was so stern.

“But is Chris’mus, how him sound so stric’?

Mrs. Banton replied: “I have the Chris’mus cake fo’ mi children and gran’ children.”

She didn’t mention the escoviched fish that she wrapped up like King Tut to keep the pungent onion and vinegar under control. Oh… and a bottle a rum fo’ mi son. I really wanted was to bring the Wincarnis, but I couldn’t carry everyt’ing. Anyway, Joe say they sell it up here.

Merry Chris’mus to you officer,” she said, relieved, as she exited the customs area.

“Gra’ma, Gra’ma!” Matthew and Marcus were the first to spot the old lady amidst all the confusion of the crowds coming from everywhere. The boys nearly knocked her down from the force of their hugs.

“Only one reason to come back to Canada… to see the best boys in the world. But Matthew how you let Marcus catching up to you so fast? You used to be the tall one. I only sorry that I’m not here all the time anymore to see you boys growing into young men.”

Hearing themselves being described as young men, the pair began struggling with their grandmother’s luggage just as her son Joe and a very pregnant Maria appeared. The second round of hugs was as warm as the first.

“I don’t see any snow yet, Joe,” Mrs. Banton noted as the family car swooshed along the highway away from the airport.

“Mama, it looks like you brought some Jamaican weather with you and you know we are so used to our white Christmas now.”

“Joe, you know I always say how one of the t’ings I’m sorry that you miss, not growing up in Jamaica, is the Christmas time. An’ I am sure, now that I am not living here anymore, that nobody have time to make Chris’mus cake. I’m only glad the customs officer didn’t search mi t’ings, because he woulda fin’ Chris’mus inside my bags for sure.”

The whole family laughed at that.

“I want to see how you put Jonkanoo and Grand Market in your bag, Mama,” Joe added, still laughing.

Seeing the questioning look on her grandsons’ faces, Mrs. Banton knew she had to bring them up-to-date on the Jamaican Christmas.

“Jonkanoo is what we call the bands of men who put on masks made of wire mesh and dance with the fife and drum through the neighbourhoods during the Chris’mus time. The Jonkanoo have names like Cow Head (him have horns), Policeman, Horse Head, Wild Indian, Devil, Belly-Woman, Pitchy-Patchy and sometimes a Bride and House Head, that look like long ago great house from slavery days. A lot of times the little children feel so ‘fraid of Jonkanoo but excited at the same time.

“Now, Grand Market, ah that was a sweetness. Always the weekend before Christmas, and especially on Christmas Eve, markets all over Jamaica pretty up the place with streamers and balloons and all kind of decorations. Then the market people would have all kind of small toys, and fee-fee noisemakers and starlight – what you kids call sparklers. We used to get pinda cakes – that’s peanut cakes, grater cakes – made with grated coconut, and peppermint sticks.

“Everybody used to dress up and wear fancy hats that they would buy at Grand Market. Chris’mus Eve; Grand Market would go right through the night. Then everybody is in church Chris’mus morning.

“Chris’mus, all who too busy to see you during the year was at Gran’ Market. Or they stopping at you house so you better have plenty sorrel and Chris’mus cake to go ’round. Then Chris’mus day, you better have gungo peas and rice, because the red peas have to take a pass that day. And there is Chris’mus ham and duck bread.

“Before Chris’mus day, outside you have to whitewash the tree trunk ’round the roots at you house-front, never mind the fence, too. Inside we hangin’ fresh curtains and giving everything else a freshening up.

“We still have some of that, but not like one time.

“Speaking of old time, Maria, how is your father doing? How is his health?”

“Papa is doing very well now, Gran’ B. As a matter of fact, he’s coming up from Trinidad for Christmas.”

“I haven’t seen Ol’ Joe since your wedding day, what…? 12 years ago?”

“Well, if you people would stop going back home after you retire we would see a lot more of you.”

More laughter filled the car.

Next Week: Ol’ Joe flies in from Port of Spain.


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