It’s December and most of the world is celebrating the festive Christmas season. It truly is a magical time of year and we all will have special memories, whether it be at home, school, work and in our neighbourhoods. There is so much to enjoy, indulge and be thankful, and it is great to have time in the year ideally spent with family and friends.
I grew up in a tropical island in the Caribbean but although we did not have cold snowy weather, it was just as festive and special as in colder countries. We would look forward to choosing or asking for toys that were advertised on Television, in local shops and shopping malls. My parents actually dedicated a day for looking at the shops downtown in the capital Port-of-Spain. Schools prepared us to sing carols weeks in advance, hosted Christmas parties and performance shows that were high-points both for children and parents. In secondary school, we had a fabulous variety show at Christmas, which was a great opportunity to showcase young talent. I still remember some of the dances by students and it forms our collective memories of a time gone by.
We had fun and special celebrations with neighbours as children too. We would go from home to home to partake of food and drink until it was too late at night – and then the next evening, we would carry on from where we left off. As teenagers in the 1980s, we also had fabulous trendy disco parties that were very popular at our house. All the teenagers would pull together to organise the Christmas party with the approval of our parents. It was very trusting of my parents to allow us to host this and my mother would again help with the cooking en masse. Everyone would work towards decorating the back yard with coconut branches for a boogie, and set up of the DJ sound system. It was very exciting. We did this for a number of years with about a hundred people attending by invitation only, and so had hired police security too. Quiet time spent with family was very special and some of my most treasured memories.
Trinidad is still very much into Christmas traditions religiously, spiritually and culturally. We have a large proportion of the population who are Christians but regardless of religious background – most of the country celebrates Christmas with home cleaning, decorations, food, drink, music and song. One unique aspect of a ‘Trini Christmas’ is Parang Music. Originally from Venezuela, it is folk music that was brought to Trinidad by migrants who were primarily of Amerindian, Spanish and African heritage. It is mainly sung in Spanish and I read that it developed from musicians and singers going from door to door and street to streets for ‘fetes’ spreading the Christmas story in song. The villagers would offer food and drink to the serenading Paranderos. This genre of music is truly amazing, upbeat and even better to hear live! I haven’t heard any live Parang since I came to London, but I still like using You Tube to listen to music (you may have noticed!). The Latin fusion beats give the music a rhythm that even though the message and lyrics may be religious – the contagious beats and joy may make you want to move your feet! The music has evolved into what is now called Soca Parang.
One of my favourite Vinyl albums is ‘Christmas is Love’ by Singing Francine which was bought by my father. Apparently the music is still played today as it contains the classics songs ‘Parang Parang’, ‘Hurray Hurrah’ and ‘Ay Ay Maria’. I heard recently in this article that vinyls have superseded downloads in the UK, and this LP would definitely be on my Christmas wish list should I go back to playing records.
Christmas in my neighbourhood in London is buoyant with activity and community spirit. For many years, the annual Lloyd Park Children’s Charity Winter Fayre was a great way to start the Christmas celebrations with Santa’s Grotto, Games, Food, and Children’s activity and market stalls. It was always festive fun but also a good fundraising initiative for local families and the community.
This year in my neighbourhood known as the Poets’ Corner E17 area of Walthamstow, we hosted our first Christmas Market in a newly pedestrainised road layout. The stalls included products such as local honey and wax, graphic designers and artists crafts, charity groups such as La Leche League, and a community table with the funds going to a local charity called Haven House. We also had a programme of local talent such as Irish Dancers, Vestry School of Dance, Greenleaf School Choir and our own eager Poets’ Corner E17 Choir which was accompanied by the Salvation Army Band as shown our blog.
Both of these winter events are not held in churches but they are great examples of market stalls, local businesses and community groups coming together to celebrate the wonder that is Christmas.
Christmas is obviously a time for selling, giving and gifting. On a commercial note, I briefly researched what businesses should expect at this time of year and there are a few prices on Euromonitor’s blog ‘Christmas Shopping Trends 2016’. This is informative for consumer spending patterns with the top five goods shopped for in order are: (1) Clothing and Footwear (2) Toiletries and Perfume (3) Food and Drink (4) Toys and Games (5) Books. It is also interesting to know that 86% of those persons surveyed also bought in store, and 76% shopped online. If you use the ‘Click and Collect’ shop services – you know how convenient it can be! It is nice to see there are both business cases for supporting the high street, and online businesses. My neighbourhood is also making a concerted effort to support local businesses with a free courier delivery service and shop local campaign.
Mintel market research ‘Christmas Shopping Habits 2016’ reports that November’s Black Friday, which is a predominantly American shopping day, has had an impact on UK spending and retail patterns in recent years with some shops taking part. Some shops prefer to still focus on the December sales period. Even I bought something on promotion this year for Black Friday as I got 20% of a jacket I had my eyes on.
And Christmas would not be Christmas without food and drink. I love baking at this time of year and there is something so comforting, reassuring and nostalgic about the scent of Christmas. My mother, aunties and neighbours got us into baking as children. We would help with breaking organic eggs (at the time we all had our own chickens) and then taking turns in mixing the cake ingredients. This was before my mother got a food processor which made baking easier but less of a communal fun ritual. There was something special about those cakes – not sure of it was the eggs, sugar or Trinidadian rum! I now do my own baking such as mince pies and Trinidadian Christmas Cake, but there are also Panettone around given by Italian relatives.
Christmas dishes are unique to each countries of the world but the English Christmas dishes are probably one of its’ best culinary traditions. I look forward each year to Roast Turkey, Pigs in Blanket (Sausages wrapped in Bacon), Stuffing, Yorkshire Puddings, Vegetables and Gravy with Cranberry Sauce and Bread Sauce (which I am not so keen on). Christmas Crackers are also good fun around the table! I have grown to like Christmas pudding and it is similar to Trinidadian Christmas Cake. I love spending time with family and friends at this time of year like everyone up until the New Year Celebrations. I do miss Trinidad but I hope I can spend Christmas there one day again in the future.
There has been so much going on in our troubled world and we are still nowhere near that elusive world peace. But still…Christmas has many and the best peaceful, thoughtful and universal human aspects to it for which we can keep hope. In these reflective lines, I have given you a flavour of my own seasonal experiences. You would have your own to share I am sure. This Christmas, my sincerest wish is for you to have a jolly time, spread the joy and peace of the season. And for the coming new year – sending another wish for a Happy 2017.