T’is the season

A few days ago my son Brandon asked me if I was excited about Christmas.  The little fellow’s inquiring mind has an insatiable curiosity. Whenever I hear “Daddy, can I ask you a question?” I know that like a skilled trial attorney, there will be four or five follow-up questions.  Anyway, I digress.  I paused before I answered and was surprised at the fact that I no longer approached Christmas with the same enthusiasm that I did when I was his age.  Thirty years ago I delighted in listening to the jingles on the radio counting down the days to Christmas, not only because my birthday falls on Christmas Day, but also because of the joy and excitement that the season brings. This year, as I charge full speed ahead towards my forty-fouth birthday, I am left wondering what happened to all that youthful exuberance.

            The cool “Chris’mus” breeze” blowing across the Caribbean from North America and the beautiful red blooming poinsettias were the first signs that Christmas was upon us.  Easily the most festive time of the year, it was a time of togetherness of family and community and was filled with non-stop celebrations, fairs, festivals and parties.  For us kids the celebrations started in school with a talent show just before the Christmas break in mid December and ended in January when we returned and had a chance to swap stories about all the things we ate and did.  In between, it was a time for cleaning.  Tree trunks, sidewalk edges and lampposts were all whitewashed with temper lime to give the place an extra lift. You could argue that it was our version of spring-cleaning, but with much more excitement.

            We never forgot the real reason for celebrating Christmas and so, in between all the partying and reveling, there was always time to attend church services and sing Christmas carols.  We sang all the traditional songs, although we had no concept of a white Christmas or a chimney for Santa to make his grand entrance on Christmas Eve.  Not surprising, we also had the reggae and calypso versions of many of the carols, adding a little Caribbean swagger and rhythm to them.  Back then the only explosions we heard were firecrackers followed by raucous laughter and joyous shouts of “Chris’mus!” or peddlers shouting “chance” while surrounded by children trying to win the biggest balloons they had on display.

            The Jonkanoo (pronounced John Canoe) dancers were always a big hit.  Jonkanoo came from our African heritage and these costumed masqueraders dance along the streets and at fairs to the rhythm of flutes and drums.  The usual costumes included the horse head, horned cow head, policeman, pitchy-patchy and the wild Indian.  The scariest for us kids was the Devil and by far the most popular was the “belly woman.”  Just imagine a near term “pregnant” gyrating masquerader dancing and prancing up and down the street and you’ll understand why this costumed figure was so popular with us.

            Christmas is when the full array of Jamaican cuisine kicks into high gear.  Homemade eggnog, still one of my favorite drinks, flowed.  Sorrel, a drink made from dried seedpods of the red sorrel flower, cinnamon, cloves, sugar, orange peel, and laced with white rum was in abundance.  Black cake packed with raisins, currents, prunes, and cherries soaked in rum for several weeks, and sometimes even from the Christmas before, was never in short supply. Mouth watering rice and peas, chicken, ham, curried goat, and oxtails delighted our palates. 

            I have since traded in the whitewash for the white snow, and light my fire crackers in July while the Jonkanoo dance only in my memory. But the essence of my Jamaican Christmases is still a part of how I celebrate Christmas today. The childlike exuberance, which admittedly exited stage left some time ago without my noticing, returns this time of year.

            So as we count down the days, I wish you and yours an irie, irie Chris’mus’.  If Christmas celebrations are not part of your plans this year, I would nonetheless like to wish you a safe and enjoyable holiday season.

T’is the season!

Keep on Pushing!

About the author

Devon Harris

Devon Harris was a member of the Jamaican Bobsleigh team and competed in three Winter Olympics; he later joined the army and attended the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst. Born on Christmas Day, 1964 and raised in a violent ghetto environment in Kingston, Jamaica, the greatest gift Devon Harris ever received was the belief that a positive attitude and a never say die philosophy would carry him farther than a sense of injustice and a heart filled with anger.A graduate of the prestigious Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in England, Devon received a Queen’s Commission in December 1985 and served in the officer corps of the Jamaica Defence Force until December 1992 when he retired as a Captain.At the heart of Devon’s message are the lessons he has learned of the power of persistence over all sorts of obstacles in order to live one's best life. His mission is to bring this message of how everyone can keep on pushing and working for their dreams every day of their professional as well as personal lives.Encouraged by his commanding officer, Devon tried out for and was selected to the first Jamaican bobsled team which competed in the 1988 Olympic Games in Calgary, Canada. Their exploits inspired the Disney blockbuster movie Cool Runnings. Devon also competed in and was captain of the 1992 Winter Olympic Games in Albertville, France and the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan.The Keep On Pushing Foundation which he founded in 2006 aims to support and enhance the education of kids in disadvantaged communities around the globe by providing practical solutions to the challenges that are preventing them from getting educated.Through the Keep on Pushing Foundation, Devon also works with Right to Play as an athlete ambassador, supporting Right to Play’s efforts in using sports and play in refugee camps around the world to enhance child development and build community capacity.As an ex-serviceman, Devon understands the commitment, sense of duty and sacrifices made by those who volunteer to serve. As a private citizen he is cognizant of the fact that the freedoms he enjoys are paid for by the courage and sacrifice of these men and women. As a result he has also devoted time to visit the troops serving in the Persian Gulf.He is the author of the motivational children’s book, Yes, I Can! and the semi-auto-biographical motivational book Keep On Pushing: Hot Lesson From Cool Runnings.