I don’t have any apologies about what I have said publicly about the political scene. I cannot be blamed if some people were not participants and were, during this period out of the State, hustling to establish themselves. If you never took part and are now trying to rewrite history to satisfy your own fancies, I am sorry for you. Comrade “Wheel and come again! I have received so much heavy political flack in my life that lightweight attacks are like pouring water on a duck’s back! Comrade, I am one of the few people who kept notes. So wheel and come again. The pen is mightier than the sword.”
Christmas is just around the corner and our young people are plunging headlong into the season without ever thinking of what Christmas used to be like, 75 or 100 years ago. There was no television station or radio station. The onus was on the schools and the churches to shoulder the responsibility for promoting Christmas. Each primary school felt that it was incumbent on the school to promote Christmas and Christianity. For several weeks before Christmas, every school was in the process of rehearsing Christmas Carols. You didn’t have to learn them, for the maxim “Spare not the rod and spoil the child,” or whatever the version said, was the order of the day. If you did not want to learn the carols, the knowledge was beaten into you, so every school child had a more than cursory knowledge of Christmas carols.
It is not a surprise that school children and adults wanted to share their love of Christmas with the rest of society and this was accomplished by “singing around.“ I don’t know when the practise of “singing around,” began, but I met it as a young boy when I was going to Teacher Merle’s School on Bishopgate Street. I could not have been crazy enough to ask my mother to join any group or to attempt to join any group that intended to go “singing around.” That could have been dangerous stuff.
Perhaps Mrs Flannigan’s Antigua and the Antiguans may serve to throw a small ray of light on this practice, but it served to raise money for the participants. If we wanted to be meticulous, it may possibly serve us better to divide the Christmas celebrations into segments that covered the preparations for Christmas, the manner in which Christmas itself was observed – the eating and drinking that was involved – and the post Christmas Day celebrations that led to and merged into the greeting of the New Year.
January was supposed to be named after a Roman god with a head that looked in two directions – the one looking backwards and the other looking forward. Everyone knew that January was a crucial month, but no one ever told us in primary school, of this dichotomy. All we knew was that January was a hard month. My friend, if you don’t believe me, just play careless with your finances and you will find out.
Many years ago, the Christmas celebrations spelled out one vital message – All roads lead to St John’s. Market Street or Scotch Row was the epicentre of the celebrations. The rich folks lived there. Rich white folks. Rich high-coloured folks and pass for white folks. (They didn’t call them black folks then) Money seemed to flow in their direction. The bands from the Point came up town to St John’s. The bands from Gray’s Farm came up town to St John’s. The masqueraders from Pig Village came across from the Bridge via Eve’s Burial Ground to St John’s and the people from Garlings Slum came down South Street to Market Street to converge on the centre of St John’s. The people from the villages all flocked to St John’s.
But if it was thought that flocking to the city of St John’s was of primary concern during the days of the Christmas Season, Old Years Day attracted many more people to Market Street. New Year’s Day proved to be an even greater magnet than any other day of the Season. As an old friend of mine used to say “Coo People!.” “Coo nearga people !” In those days all of the houses on Market Street were occupied. The palatial Mansions on East Street and on the streets running from east to west to connect with Market Street were all occupied and the occupants all expected the people and the bands to parade and to serenade them during the season. What a seeming confusion! What a mélèe.
The House Coat Bands from the Point were there, and the people danced to the powerful brass bands to which they were attached. There were John Bulls, Highlanders and all sorts of persons imitating people in high society. The fife and drum bands were plentiful and the supposedly rich folks were from years of experience that dated back to slavery, expected to shower the plebian masses with some sort of largesse. When I was a little boy, thousands of brand new farthings that had a little bird on one side were thrown from the upstairs windows of the houses on Market Street and the expected ritual of a massive rush and stampede would ensue.
The Christmas Season was a big, big rush of seeming confusion that everyone seemed to enjoy. I remember the days when small houses were totally papered-over, every year. The paper-job served as insulation and brightened the whole interior. Linoleum was the preferred covering for floors and there used to be a time when every little boy was an expert in making “fly-catchers” that were best sellers during every Christmas season. The preferred meat was pork, thus Christmas was the season when Ham and Bacon were most prevalent.
It should be noted that the political parties seemed to have discovered that ham & turkey could be obtained very cheaply and have been flooding the country with them outside of the Christmas Season. I have been told that it was Comrade Stanford who seduced some politicians into utilising ham & turkey, but I have no proof of this. I have never met nor spoken to Comrade Stanford, but I would like to extend Christmas wishes to him, even though he is behind bars and will be, for an extended time. From the time the Progressive Labour Movement introduced the National School Bus System, the country folk have been coming to town to go to school. Today the cry of “Country people go home, go home, is no longer heard on New Year’s night.” Everything is peace and love, between country and town.
May I take this opportunity to wish all the readers “Of Dis and Dat” a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year!