By Professor. Richard A. Byron-Cox (PhD)
Nostalgia accompanies ageing, so forgive me for taking you to Memory Lane and Christmas of my childhood. Back then, things began with visionary preparations like buying early in the year a piglet, lamb, occasionally a calf, to rear specifically for Christmas. Purchasing fresh beef, pork or mutton from a supermarket wasn’t an option. Besides, every man jack was a butcher. There was also the timely sowing of peas, ginger and sorrel, for stewed peas, home-made ginger and sorrel beer were Christmas-day staples.
In October women planned procurement of curtains, linoleum, giving the house a dab, and other details.
The tempo rose in early November as new curtain cloths, toys, utensils, and household goods appeared in stores. There was little money, so purchases were piece by piece: one week some curtain cloth; the next, a gallon of paint; three weeks later a bottle of Miss Duncan (Black wine) and Mount Bentick (Strong rum). By month’s end, raisins and cherries were set in the Black and Strong, soaking for black cake later; cloths for curtain and Christmas clothes were sent to the village seamstress; and exchange of meats and provisions arranged. Oh, and 50 cent ice (a lot then), ordered from the neighbour who had fridge. Things were shaping up for the big day.
The more well-to-do welcomed December hanging up Christmas lights, a supreme luxury. The growing excitement all around enticed my young heart to believing Christmas and joy were synonymous.
Nine Mornings arrived welcomed by some doing nocturnal window-shopping, fantasizing about things they would never have, but imagination comes easy and free. I was loco about the bikes in Bruce O Bonadie’s show window but tempered foolish illusions with hopes for a toy revolver with gun belt. Innocence causes self-delusion.
Nine Mornings for some others was sea bathing in the chilly waters at Harbour Club. The Anglican, Methodist and Catholic churches held pre-dawn services, while the young and pretended young attended fetes featuring live music that included Spouge, then Barbados’ national music, but which has since followed the dinosaurs. There was no Heritage Square!
A week before Christmas, houses were stripped: curtains taken down; glass windows, a rarity, were cleaned with old newspapers; floors were moped, furniture polished; glass wares, another great luxury, were carefully cleaned. Hinderances, namely children, remained outdoors for most of this time.
On Christmas eve everything hit fever pitch, anticipations overcharged. Makeshift butchery stations set up, drum ovens checked; mothers or elder siblings took the smaller ones into town to join the hustle and bustle of shoppers and sellers, some on their once-a-year city trip catching the last-lap shopping. Back home eggs, sugar and butter were beaten to make cake; flour kneaded for bread and sweet bread; then a lighted coal pot was placed inside the drum oven at its base, while wood fire crowned its top; baking had begun.
As afternoon turned to evening, slaughtering commenced, followed by bartering of meats, some pork for some mutton, some beef in exchange for some lamb and so on. Fresh-boiled made with tripe, feet and head; Jack Iron with water; and light from pitch-oil flambeaus, accompanied the butchers into the wee hours of the morning. From the kitchen came the smell of salted ham being boiled. Children having washed their face and hands went to bed thinking of gifts from Santa Claus. Mothers then began creating the magic of “putting way” the house: Laying Linoleum, hanging curtains, putting on cushions covers, spreading doily on the centre table, tying inflated balloons at windows, arranging furniture. The living room became an exhibition of exquisite interior decoration. Thence to the kitchen: curtains were hanged; pots and pans scrubbed to shinning; pork, beef, and mutton seasoned and left to marinate. At around 4 am a final surveying eye roamed, seeking any incompleteness.
Strong smelling cocoa tea with ciliment bush, fried ham and eggs, and a rising sun pulled me out of bed Christmas morning, into a house transformed, awesomely beautiful. I got my toy car being sternly warned not to “mash it up!” At day’s end it would again be boxed, stored away until next Christmas. I at least saw and touched it. Breakfast and lunch made me a contended Boa constrictor, needing a place to doze. Religious Christmas songs and stories about baby Jesus dominated the wireless. A piece of cake and a sweet drink were dinner; and as night beckoned, I knew Christmas was over. But I wasn’t totally sad as Boxing, Old and New Year’s Day were to come before hard month, January. And who knows, Santa might be kind next Christmas.