Jamaica Magazine

A Happy Time In Canterbury by American Retiree in Jamaica

Written by John Casey

Canterbury will long remember this past Christmas party presented by TCMI (Trumpet Call Ministries International). It was a festive celebration in the community for both young and old.

Canterbury is one of the 19 “squatter” communities within Montego Bay on “captured” land. It consists of about 3 acres of land populated with nearly 3,000 people. Its past has been a volatile one which included a two day gun battle between warring gangs and the Jamaican police force along with the help of the army. All that is in
the past. I have been going in and out of this community for nearly three years without the slightest incident. During that time, I have seen the residents take pride in what little they have. They are emerging from that past and making remarkable progress in their self esteem.

December 22, 2006 was the second annual Christmas party put on by TCMI for over 200 children. Organizing a party of this size takes a great deal of planning. There was food for all, presents for the kids, new and used clothing for both adults and kids, and a special appearance by Wings of Praise, the church’s dance ministry.

The food consisted of Jamaican Christmas cakes, Jamaican sorrel, and Red Pea soup. The Christmas cake is very similar to a fruit cake with a variety of diced dried fruit but is more moist. The sorrel is a drink available only at this time of the year. It is made from sorrel blossoms boiled with crushed ginger, pimento leaves, and
sometimes other spices. Once this has cooked, sugar is added to taste. Some recipes pour boiling water over the mixture instead of the boiling method. Either way it is a delicious Christmas tradition. The Red Pea soup, one of my favorites, is made with kidney beans, potatoes, and beef. Some of these items were homemade, while local businesses provided the rest.

The presents were all bought by the congregation, Pathway International Church of Wisconsin which is a partner church in the USA, and friends from outside the church. All the gifts were painstakingly wrapped and tagged as to age and gender, then bagged accordingly. With so many people buying the gifts, the variety was amazing. There was a large variety of dolls for the girls and a large assortment of cars and trucks for the boys. There were also numerous games and storybooks. The only gifts not wrapped were backpacks for the older children.

The clothing was donated by Food For The Poor, and members of TCMI. Food For The Poor donated flip flops and girls handbags along with children’s storybooks. The used clothing consisted of everything from pants and shirts to shoes, etc. The backpacks were provided by the partner church.

The process of getting everything from the church to Canterbury and all set up was a major undertaking. Everything was moved in a convoy by pickup trucks, vans and cars. This included tables, a sound system and a tent along with all the food and presents, etc. It took just over a half hour to set up and then the fun began.

Canterbury is located on the banks of two steeps hills separated by a storm gully. It didn’t take long for the word to spread that the festivities would soon begin. Most of the kids and adults were there before everything was set up. You could feel the excitement in the air. Some of the boys were kicking a soccer ball around in a mock game while groups of girls were watching the preparations anticipating all the goodies being spread out on the tables. Toddlers were in awe while watching from their mother’s arms. With the first sounds of Christmas music coming from the sound system a rousing cheer could be heard from all sections of the community square.

After singing a Christmas carol, the Wings of Praise performed to the delight of young and old. Next, all the kids lined up for the refreshments. It was amazing to see 200 kids patiently awaiting their turn for a special treat. As you can imagine the kids were more interested in the cake and sorrel than the soup. While the kids
enjoyed their goodies, the adults indulged in the soup. As the food was being consumed, the clothing was distributed.

Finally, the highlight of the afternoon, the handing out of the presents! Each child was given a color coded ticket which identified both age and gender of the child. Once again the kids all lined up in an orderly manner. It was a blessing that there were enough gifts in each category so each child got an appropriate gift.

With Christmas music playing in the background, the kids were all showing off their gifts to their friends and parents. The big smiles on their faces made all the hard work by the church’s staff worthwhile. As the afternoon wore down the staff was already starting to plan next year’s party.

About the author

John Casey