US-based Guyanese dream of ‘Christmas in the Motherland’
By Dale Andrews
For 20 long years Marilyn Harper has been longing to come home and experience a good old Guyanese Christmas. But it’s not been that easy for her. You see Marilyn wants to come home with her entire family and celebrate Christmas the way she knew it as a child growing up in Guyana. But their different schedules have been putting this idea constantly on hold.
Marilyn resides in Brooklyn, New York, and is a wife, mother and grandmother, and a family Christmas with the true Guyanese flavour will be the icing on the cake for her.
Of course, for her, Christmas in her adopted homeland is never like the ones spent at home more than two decades ago.
For one, she misses the preparation so much so that not even the smell of New York-flavoured pepper-pot and ginger beer could match that feeling of a Christmas morning in Guyana.
Reminiscently she said “It used to be an exciting time just preparing for Christmas, getting things ready, changing your blinds, painting, you know… that is what I miss.”
Such is the story of many who would like to be with family enjoying a green Christmas but cant for various reasons.
Marjorie Gibson is another Guyanese who believes that Christmas in the USA cannot even come near those she experienced in Guyana.
“In Guyana you would get up in the morning and look over at your neighbour to see what type of blinds (curtains) they put up, if they have new ones. Here the blinds could be up for the whole year and it does not matter. But we decorate if you feel like it,” Gibson stated.
With Christmas coming just after Thanksgiving, Americans blend the two events almost into one and US-based Guyanese have also adopted this posture.
“There is nothing like ‘breaking up the house’ here. As soon as Thanksgiving is over, we’re into the Christmas season and you will already have your decorations up. It’s not like in Guyana when you wait until it’s close to Christmas,” Gibson said.
But at least Harper will be changing her curtains for the season as a ‘true to the bone Guyanese’.
Both Harper and Gibson confirmed that the customary ‘free’ staff parties are almost non-existent.
“Here you have to pay your money and you go. It’s not like in Guyana where the work place sponsors the party.” They also said that visits to friends are done via invitation but noted that “the place is very cold so most of the time you stay indoors”.
For Marilyn, this year like so many of those she has spent in the USA will be quiet, despite her hectic work schedule.
She has been a great cook ever since her mother allowed her into the kitchen and that talent is serving her well even on to this day.
Kaieteur News caught up with her while she was busy preparing a cake for someone as is the norm around this time.
“I usually bake for a lot of Guyanese people and things like that, so usually when Christmas morning catches me, I’m so tired. But after baking so many cakes, at Christmas I just feel tired and need to relax.”
Her husband Oswald doesn’t mind since according to Marilyn, their daughter and her family may sometimes come over and they all will share a special Christmas dinner.
Of course in America, Marilyn and her family have adopted the tradition of having a mighty breakfast, with their pepper-pot and garlic pork, and then a sumptuous dinner.
“We do have all the traditional Christmas food. I try to make Christmas the way I remember it in Guyana. I have everything, my ginger beer, sorrel, the black cake as usual and everything.”
With Christmas being such a big thing among the Guyanese community in New York, some of Marilyn’s American friends are also sucked into the celebrations.
“They don’t really visit but I usually have to give a few of them some pepper-pot or some garlic pork, everybody has to try it. So most years I have a friend or two who I have to give something,” Marilyn said.
Unlike many Guyanese living in the US, Marilyn is one of the lucky ones who get to enjoy Boxing Day at home also.
She told Kaieteur News that because of her job, she gets almost the entire holiday season off – beginning from Christmas Day.
That is not to say that she can sleep all day in the cold weather at this time. There are still the constant demands from friends on her culinary skills.
“I would like to spend a Christmas in Guyana but it must be with the whole family, not just with me alone. But one of these days,” Marilyn said with a chuckle.
Denise Beaton is another Guyanese who misses her ‘Christmas in the Motherland’.
She has been in the United States of America since 1991 and her last Christmas here was way back in 1992.
“The excitement is back home. I don’t know about now. Over here nobody sees your home. We don’t even have the children like back home. It’s me, my husband and my mother, so we don’t do much. Christmas here is nothing exciting for me,” Denise told this newspaper.
Unlike in Guyana where many persons go through pains to decide what to wear to their staff parties, Denise said that as far as she is aware nothing like that obtains in New York.
“In Guyana you have to get your party gear… Old Year’s Night clothes, we would go to the extreme to look good back home,” she said.
Because it’s cold at this time of the year in New York, window shopping is not something that is popular. But the cold will not stop most Guyanese from celebrating Christmas the way they know how. At least there will be lots of rum, black cake and ginger beer, but after the sport, it’s back to work in the cold.