Home African Caribbean Merry Christmas And A Happy New Year

Merry Christmas And A Happy New Year

by Tony Kelly
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Each year my late mother  before her passing would write in her Christmas card sent from New York to us as a family living in England the words, ‘Remember Jesus is the reason for the Christmas season’. I firmly believe in that too although some people in terms of wanting to be more inclusive say things such as seasons’ greetings or happy holidays to name  a few of the salutations used instead.   After all is said and done it is the birthday of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ for believers of the Christian faith and is soon followed by the start of a new year. I clearly remember some years ago Birmingham City Council made the unwise and awful decision of not using the word Christmas in their annual campaign claiming it was not politically correct and would offend some people who do not celebrate that religious festival. What were they thinking as the backlash even from non-Christians was so powerful that ever since then that concept was well and truly abandoned?

Cast your mind back to the beginning of the millennium when those of us old enough to know, saw the end of 1999 which will soon be 24 years old and suddenly we realize how much time flies and as the adage says ‘Time waits for no one’.

As youngsters in the district of Whitehall in the parish of St. Thomas, Jamaica, as members of the Golden Valley Youth club we used to get up early a few days before Christmas Day and go caroling in the dark with torches through Soho, Whitehall and White Gate.  It was such an enjoyable feeling.  Then my great aunt, Mrs. Ina Watson, a primary school teacher who played the organ at St. Boniface Anglican church in the district would each year directed a different cantata with yours truly being given one of the starring roles. She used to  go to both SPCK and Sangster’s bookshops in Kingston and buy suitable Christmas presents especially  puzzles and books as she was a great believer in literacy and bringing out the best in even the shiest child. Those stores would also donate some presents which we would help to wrap as gifts for the Sunday school children.  After the performance all the treats including ice cream, cakes and  aerated water more commonly known as pop or fizzy drinks were consumed. A particular joke which has remained etched in my memory was of a woman who shall remain anonymous, whilst we were running around and playing outside the church yard, shouting, ‘Hi, oonu stop di noise, oonu is too excitement’. Just try to imagine how we nearly screamed our heads  off with laughter at the ‘speaky-spokey’ way she addressed us. Those were really fun-filled days. 

I know of  the popular Grand Market commonly referred to as Gran Market  but never had the opportunity to visit one  which was always held in Kingston on Christmas Eve. During the Yuletide period there is the  Jonkanoo/Jonkonnu band with the various characters such as King, Queen, Devil, Belly Woman and Pitchy-Patchy  dressed in costumes masquerading in the villages. Some children would be scared and hide or run away at the sight of these men in their various disguises. This is an African custom consisting of a procession through the village/district in traditional costumes whilst dancing to drums, bells and whistles.

Continuing to reminisce I recall always going to see the annual pantomime at the Ward Theatre in Kingston  for a few years until I was eventually cast as one of the characters in the 1978-79 production of 12 Million Dollar Man which traditionally opened on Boxing Day.

One often hears of how commercialized Christmas has become and seeing Christmas cards and decorations in stores/shops from as early as September truly beggars belief.  There is too opposite William Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-Upon-Avon, in England  a Christmas shop which is open everyday except Christmas day and it attracts so many visitors. I remember my childhood years when Christmas seemed to take ages to come around each year but that no longer seems to be the case as by the time one blinks it is suddenly here again and the adverts on television  start far too soon.

I know  children in countries where winter is currently the season, wish for snow but to be honest I cannot stand it and will never like  Irvin Berlin’s words sung by Bing Crosby waste a moment of my time dreaming of a white Christmas. The Guinness world record named the holiday single “White Christmas” (1942) by Bing Crosby as the best-selling single worldwide having sold over 50 million copies. With my Jamaican background I much prefer the late Neville Willougby’s song of ‘Christmas JA’ which is on YouTube below, with lyrics of not having any snow or any sleigh or the Jamaican Folk Singers ‘Christmas a come mi waan mi llama’. Both bring back pleasant memories as I always maintain that Christmas in Jamaica is one of the best experiences as the vibe, ambience, celebrations, church services, concerts, pantomime, music, house and beach parties, food and drink are world-class. I say that having spent this all-important religious festival in other countries and there is in my view no comparison.

I could not end this piece without mentioning the  shortening of the word to Xmas which I loathe/detest with a passion. It just does not seem the right thing to do.

Readers, do have a peaceful, holy and merry Christmas  and ‘see’  you all in   2024.

Tony Kelly

Tony Kelly

London born Tony Kelly of Jamaican parents grew up in Jamaica and returned to live in Birmingham in 1979.
He is a graduate of Mico Teachers’ College and taught in Kingston high schools prior to working for 30+ years as a middle manager in central and local government with an emphasis on equity, equality, diversity and inclusion. He has a masters’ degree in socio-legal studies from the university of Birmingham.
For over a decade Tony has volunteered as a diabetes ambassador firstly for Diabetes UK and now for the National Health Service – Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group. A multi-award winner doing a yearly average of 150 health and well-being events, locally, nationally and internationally focusing on type 2 diabetes. He was diagnosed with this medical condition 18 years ago. However with a combination of physical activity and diet he has never taken medication thus proving with the right mindset and discipline it can be achieved.
As a diabetes advocate/activist Tony will continue delivering the message of healthy options to readers of CaribDirect.com .


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