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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Christmas (04/25/05)

By Phyllis Inniss


Christmas is a festive time in Trinidad and Tobago. The celebration of the birth of the Christ child is commemorated with an energy and style that defies the imagination. Modern technology has taken away a lot of the hard work and the grind that went into making the holiday a family and neighbourhood affair, but it has also taken away some of the fun and the jollity that characterized the season.

The entire nation, with few exceptions, would busy itself with a thorough house cleaning. Cobwebbing, sweeping, mopping, scraping old varnish from the floor and wooden furniture give evidence to one’s preparation for this Advent. The whole house is now in chaos. Children, willing or unwilling, are roped into all the activity, some with promises of their favourite Christmas delights. New curtains are a must, even for the poorest family. Cushion covers must be washed or changed. People work late into Xmas Eve to get their house sparkling for Christ’s birth.

The food and drinks fall under the watchful eye of the grownups. In the old days the ham was boiled in a tall rectangular tin on a wooden fire out in the yard. It was generally the children’s duty to get the wood to keep the fire going. In the back yard there would be a large oven made of clay and grass, shaped like an igloo, with a large hole in the centre for pushing in and pulling out large loaves of bread, the aroma of which was as tantalizing as its look. The fruit for the cakes would have been soaking in rum for as far back as required. This cake known as black cake, quite a favourite with many, created much rivalry.. People would boast of the richness and tastiness of their cake as compared to another’s. Drinks like ginger beer, sorrel, ponche-a-crème, rum punch, would be made long before hand, lying in wait for the big day, or in some cases for Xmas Eve. Most families in T&T would have alcoholic drinks, even though they themselves do not partake. They think it’s mean not to have something that others enjoy, especially at Xmas time

Music welcomes in the Advent season. The paranderos, the singers of parang music move from house to house with their guitars, cuatros and mandolins and chac chacs to entertain those they visit. Parang music is the lifeblood of the Xmas season. It is part of our Spanish heritage and our close proximity to Venezuela and regular visits to and from that country help keep this tradition alive. Here, too, some of the ham and cake and drinks are served to the guests. The carollers come to the houses with their well-known Xmas songs and are treated to the fare of the home. But the joy that the season evokes brings a certain sparkle in the air and somehow music seems to add a touch of pep to the atmosphere. Even the cold winds from the northern climes waft their way down to cool our hot climate and refresh our minds and bodies.

Even though Christmas is a Christian event, in Trinidad & Tobago, all religions celebrate it. Hindus and Moslems alike take part in the festivity and some of them are even members of parang groups. The religious groups live in harmony with one another. One South African Archbishop referred to us as a ‘rainbow country’ The sad part is that businesses have commercialized the event and the warmth and hospitality that existed previously have lessened. Some persons still keep a creche in their homes or in their front garden if they can afford it, some only as a show piece.

The people in the rural and country areas still keep alive, to a large extent, the doctrine of ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’. It seems, however, to have died away in the cities and the towns. People need to retain their focus on the creche as a symbol of the Holy Birth and that Christ’s death on the cross was to save us from our sins. From the creche to the cross we were taught how to live, and in humility. Isaiah 42:24 says “Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to the robbers? did not the Lord, he against whom we have sinned? for they would not walk in his ways, neither were they obedient unto his law.”

29th April,05

Quote taken from the King James Version of the Holy Bible

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Member Comments
Member Date
Leticia Caroccio05/05/05
It is always interesting to get a glimpse into the traditions and cultures of other people. Your article was interesting. Thank you.
Suzanne R05/07/05
I also love these insights into other cultures and ways. It's great to know that Christmas is still celebrated so thoroughly in Trinidad and Tobago. May God use the Christians to keep that message going out loud and clear, as people of all different faiths celebrate.

I love the content and the title, linking in with the way you finish with the sad effects of urbanization meaning isolation. One thing that would have made it even better for me (speaking as a complete amateur) would be to describe the sensations as well as the facts e.g. the taste of the cake, the noise of the children's excitement etc. Just a thought.

Well done. Maybe this could go to a magazine that focuses on overseas work, in plenty of time to be published at Christmas.
Deborah Porter 05/09/05
Phyllis, your entries are always interesting. I hope you'll keep entering the Challenge for a long time to come. Just a reminder though - make sure that you always remove your name from the bottom of your entries. If I catch it, I take it off (as I've done with your "Mothers" entry this week as well). But it's a problem when the judges see it before I've had a chance to remove it, as the entries are meant to be anonymous. You can leave the date the entry was written on the bottom, but all references to author have to be removed from the body of your work. With love, Deb (Challenge Coordinator)