Culture

On Christmas Day, no one was disappointed at her home in Bellas Gate, St Catherine

Written by Leo Gilling

So here I am at the start of the Christmas season, wondering what I am going to write about. Knowing all too well that there are different ways of celebrating Christmas across the various Jamaican communities, I thought I would seek out a few persons to try to get their perspectives on the season or to share their individual stories.  I have compiled a few responses – 3 so far, and will release them as we move closer to Christmas.  Here’s the first of them from a resident of Maryland, USA, (Ariel) sharing fond memories of her childhood growing up in Bellas Gate, St. Catherine.  

Here is Ariel’s response from St. Catherine:

The “flagging” of the sugar cane growing around the yard, the dipped temperatures and the cottony pieces from the “caneflags” that danced around in the air, carried by the wind, created a feeling of expectancy. Growing up, literally in a cane piece, one remembers that the “flagging” of the cane always happened at Christmas time. In case you don’t know what that is…it’s that light, white feathery bloom that came from the cane. They grow on a long stem. Some people used to cut them, spray-colour them and place them in vases inside their houses for decoration. Christmas was definitely in the air!

For us, the whitewashing of dulled walls and a thorough cleaning of the house was an integral part of the Christmas preparations. Every glass, every piece of crockery was taken out of Mama’s cabinet and washed to a sparkle, replaced on top of the pretty white doily that adorned the shelves.

Floors were well polished with Rexo or Geenie floor polish and of course the coconut brush was essential to buffering the surface to a shine. The special, seldom used bed spreads were of course brought out. New curtains too. The anticipation of grand-market was palpable. Gifts were bought and as children we would hang our little bags on Christmas Eve, knowing that Santa was going to come during the course of the night. Who cared whether he was real or not? LOL.

On Christmas day, no one was disappointed. Little delights like: balloons of every colour and shape, including the ones that were hard to blow and left your jaws feeling all achy and your eyes “cast”; fefe with the coloured feathers on top; real bouncing balls (a real treat from the stocking or sock-stuffed home-made balls made with wet newspaper wrapped over a stone to give it weight) that we used to play dandy shandy, were among the gifts. Let the romping begin!

But a real significant part of the Christmas experience was caroling. We would shield the lit candles from the wind with our hands as we moved around the square from place to place singing Christmas carols to our and the community’s delight. We were active members of the Baptist Church then and lived for this time of year.

Then everything came to a crescendo on December 25. Christmas Day is here! Time to kill the white fowl, bring out the mannish water, curry goat, pork, rice and green gungo peas, picked from the trees around the yard. Sorel was a must.  And did I mention Red Label wine? To this day, for me no Christmas is complete without the taste and smell of Red Label wine, our own Jamaican produced red wine. Move over Asti Spumante, Yellow Tail, Chardonnay, Baileys Irish Crème and the like!

A big highlight though was sitting around near the the table with family, a big one at that, not just with my parents and siblings, but sometimes with the extended family, including our remaining cousins who had not yet migrated, eating up all that wonderful, tasty country – flavored heavenly food. Yes, all totally organic.

Then as night approached and the day neared its end, and the fear that this once-a-year day was almost over, what would remain would be the “flag” on the cane, swaying gently in the breeze, in the cool, cool hills of that proud little district in the hills of St. Catherine called home…the final resting place of my Mama – Miss Mary (or teacher as some called her). Bellas Gate. I am a “Bellas Gate girl”, Yes I am. Yes I am.

Ariel Scott Bowen

bellas gate 2 Bellas gate 1

About the author

Leo Gilling