No Christmas like the Christmas of my childhood

By MURPHY BROWNE

Mooma, Mooma would you like to join your sonny?

I am over here, happy in the mother country

Darling, for the Christmas, your son would be really jumping

Listen to the chorus of what we all will be singing…

Drink a rum and a punch a crema, drink a rum

Is Christmas morning!

Drink a rum and a punch a crema, drink a rum

Mama, drink if you drinking!

Drink a rum and a punch a crema, drink a rum.

Again Mooma, I have invited Jamaica

Lovely Grenada, Barbados also Guyana

It’s an invitation for a stupendous occasion

You can just imagine, we drinking till New Year’s morning.

The fete is grand, bottles of all description

You must understand, liquor to supply a nation

I have ordered whiskey, punch a crema, gin and brandy

Lime and tonic water, lemonheart and Angostura

From “Drink a Rum” by Aldwyn “Lord Kitchener” Roberts (April 18, 1922 – February 11, 2000).

Whenever I spent Christmas visiting my mother’s older sister and her family who lived on Mora Street in Mackenzie (Guyana) it was traditional to be awakened on Christmas morning to the sounds of Lord Kitchener loudly encouraging us to “drink a rum on a Christmas morning”.

My aunt and her husband lived next door to the Anthony family who owned a juke box from which Mr. Anthony would blast popular Christmas music each Christmas morning. His neighbours (including the children) expected, welcomed and enjoyed the music. It would be the signal for the beginning of the most enjoyable day of the year.

Christmas in the Guyana of my childhood cannot be replicated anywhere else. The sights, sounds and smells of a Guyanese Christmas are unique. Whether Christmas was spent with my aunt’s family, at my grandparents’ home in Stanleytown, Berbice or my family stayed at home in whichever location my police officer father was posted at any given time, our Christmas celebrations were occasions to remember.

Beginning with waking up on Christmas morning to a seemingly brand new house where everything had been miraculously transformed overnight, the day just kept getting better. The adults probably worked throughout the night to ensure that the furniture, window curtains, floors, walls etc., all seemed brand new. Children woke up on Christmas morning raring to open the presents that Father Christmas had mysteriously brought to their homes the night before.

Father Christmas knew exactly what we wanted for Christmas. The presents he brought were mostly gender specific; water and cap guns, bats and other cricket paraphernalia for the boys, dolls, tea sets and kitchen gadgets for the girls but everyone received books, clothes and shoes.

On Christmas day all the adults were involved with the food preparation and the amazing smell of Christmas lunch and dinner added to that unique smell of a Guyanese Christmas which was not complete without the morning breakfast of pepperpot and homemade bread. Pepperpot is a uniquely Guyanese dish made by cooking various types of meat with casareep, which is made from boiling bitter cassava.

Pepperpot for breakfast is one tradition that the majority of Guyanese continue even when we move away from Guyana.

Although in Guyana there are no evergreen trees resembling what is considered the traditional Christmas tree, artificial trees were a part of the decoration, complete with fake snow although most of us had never seen snow.

The dining table seemed to groan under the weight of the food on Christmas day. Lunch and dinner included roasted and baked chicken, garlic pork, pepperpot, roasted and baked duck, black cake, pickled onions, achar, ginger beer, mauby, sorrel and various types of liquor for the men. Family, friends, neighbours and even strangers were made welcome and invited to eat, drink and take food home as they dropped by on Christmas day.

Special entertainment was provided by the masquerade bands that travelled throughout the towns and villages. The fearsome mad cow and Mother Sally were terrifying figures to many children as they flounced and danced to the sound of the kittle, flute and drum. I was scared witless at the sight of Mother Sally and the mad cow and would hide indoors until they were out of sight. The men and boys who accompanied the masquerade bands would perform amazing acrobatic movements as they flounced and danced to pick up money that was placed on the ground. Some of the members of the masquerade bands would chant: Christmas comes but once a year and everyman must have his share, except old brother Willy in the jail drinking sour ginger beer. I frequently wondered why old brother Willy was in jail every year at Christmas time but none of the adults had an answer that was satisfactory.

Although the celebration of Christmas in Guyana is embraced by all Guyanese regardless of race or religion, the celebration began in the 1600s with the arrival of the Dutch, the first Europeans who settled in Guyana. The enslaved Africans probably embraced Christmas because it was the one day of the year that their enslavers allowed them to have a respite from the backbreaking field work (the house slaves would have had to work as usual.)

Some European enslavers could not fully relax even on Christmas day because they were afraid the people they enslaved might seize that opportunity to revolt. While there were no major Christmas day revolts in Guyana, the fears of the enslavers were not misplaced because there were some attempts by enslaved Africans to seize their freedom while the White people were enjoying their Christmas festivities. In An introduction to the history of Trinidad and Tobago published in 1996, Bridget Brereton writes of the 1805 plot by enslaved Africans in Trinidad who planned a Christmas day revolt which was to begin in Carenage and then move to Diego Martin. The planned rebellion was brutally repressed with the execution of four of the accused leaders while others had their ears cut off.

Today the descendants of those Africans who were enslaved in Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad, etc., have embraced the celebration of Christmas.

On Christmas Day, when Big Ben alarm six thirty

We are underway to begin this festivity

Later in the evening, we passing through Picadilly

Everybody dancing and singing the same melody.

Drink a rum and a punch a crema, drink a rum

Mama, drink if you drinking!

Have a wonderful and safe holiday, everyone.

tiakoma@aol.com

 

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