A gasp and a cheer went up from the massive crowd that engulfed Newgate Street when the switch was thrown to turn on the spectacular light display at Shoul’s Toys and Gifts this past Saturday. It was as sure a sign as any that Christmas was here in Antigua and Barbuda. The annual Shoul’s festival of lights event, is reminiscent of the annual lighting of the famed Christmas tree in Rockefeller Centre in New York. There, massive crowds gather to view and revel in that awesome rite of Christmas. In the eyes of many, Christmas just is not Christmas without the Rockefeller Centre Tree lighting or the Shoul’s event. They are as much a part of Christmas as rum, ponche crema, sorrel, guavaberry, ginger beer, egg nog and the obligatory Christmas ham garnished with cloves, pineapples and assorted Antiguan delights.
And talking about Christmas delights. Who can forget the Christmases of yore when the John Bulls amused the adults even as they struck fear in the hearts of little boys and girls. When the irascible Bylay (with the highlanders),a great butcher from back in the day, wielded his ‘clap-whip’ or ‘bull-bud,’ it was at once a thing of terror and intrigue. After all, even as we youngsters would scamper away, screaming for ‘mami;’ even as we were peeking out from under mami’s skirts, much like the enchanted villagers from Hamlin, we could not resist the John Bulls. Or the highlanders and mocko jumbies. Neither could we resist ‘One-man band’ with his fyfe, drum, harmonica and dancing wife. We are talking the fond memories of famous John Bulls like Paylo, Arthur Sixteen, Geronimo and Allan Buck, with their great whipmen Zachy and Isaac. Or the full-fledged iron bands. If truth be told, the pulsating rhythms of McKush and the talented iron band players from Point, would take us children all over Point, Villa and St. John’s; and a still small voice would tell us that it was time to go home, whilst another – the compelling sounds of the lone pan with the assorted irons – would persuade us to tarry a while and follow the music for yet another mile.
Ah, music! Sweet Christmas music. It does the soul good. We’re talking about the string bands of yore. We don’t hear them much anymore here in Antigua and Barbuda, but many folks now resort to Youtube for the nostalgia. At any given moment during this festive season, it is not difficult to hear, “Mooma Mooma, would you like to join your sonny, I am over here in the Mother country…”That’s the opening line from DRINK A RUM AND A PONCHE CREMA by Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights from St. Croix. Their music is foot-stomping sweet, and it wafts the spirit back to a time and place where life was perhaps more idyllic and sublime. Who amongst us old-timers can forget “Mama make yuh Johnny Cake Christmas coming . . . “[MAMA MAKE YUH JOHNNY CAKE], “Good-morning good-morning, and how are you this morning . . .” [GUAVABERRY] and of course, the ever popular, MAMACITA?
Or how about King Obstinate’s, CHRISTMAS IN THE WEST INDIES (“Santa Claus, why yuh belly big so? Yuh bring gift for meh wife, but nothing for me, so yuh not getting none of de rum at all!”)Or this perennial favourite, HOW WILL SANTA GET HERE? And talking about perennial favourites, Christmas would certainly not be Christmas without Nap Hepburn’s LISTEN MAMA, I WANT YOU TO TELL SANTA CLAUS or Lord Nelson’s, PARTY FOR SANTA. Or Jacob Miller’s Rastafarian anthem – ALL AH WANT FOR CHRISTMAS is “muh” . . . well, that thing with a distinctive pungent odour? Alvin and The Chipmunks claim that all they want is their two front teeth. Mariah Carey says that all she wants is her love interest. And we’re all dreaming of a sunshine Christmas just like the one we used to know.
It is certainly a most irie time of year here in Antigua and Barbuda, with sweet corn roasting on an open fire, and no Jack Frost nipping at your nose / Yuletide calypso and reggae being sung by a choir / And absolutely no one dressed up like Eskimos / Everybody knows that some ham and souse, help to make the season bright / And Mr. and Mrs. Santa, after a spot of sorrel or mauby, spiked with a little ‘sumn-sumn’ / Will, er . . . well, find it hard to sleep at night . . . “. (Altered version, Nat King Cole’s, CHESTNUTS ROASTING ON AN OPEN FIRE] Hmmmm! That sounds good to us!
Folks, from the Christmas carols, to the uplifting church services; from the carolers going from door to door, to the fun, food and fellowship with friends and loved ones; from the kindness of strangers who see to the less fortunate, here’s hoping that this Christmas will be a good one with lots of great cheer. [MERRY XMAS, WAR IS OVER, by John Lennon]. As Otis Redding sings, “Merry Christmas baby, let us sure treat each other right!” In that spirit, we here at NEWSCO take this opportunity to wish all Antiguans and Barbudans a most delightful and blessed Christmas 2019, and a safe, healthy and prosperous 2020. May the Christmas breezes blow much peace and goodwill!