– Overseas- based Guyanese share their favourite holiday traditions
By Rehanna Ramsay
It is often said that “there’s no Christmas like a Guyanese Christmas,” and for many of
our nation’s citizens scattered across the globe, this saying certainly proves true as the feeling of nostalgia deepens, particularly during the holidays.
This year‘s Christmas special, features a few overseas-based Guyanese who shared their candid views about the holiday traditions of their adopted homelands and what they miss most about Christmas in Guyana.
Given her experience travelling to various parts of the world on duty as a serving United States-based army officer, Wanita Caleb, a mom of two, explained that her family is exposed to a wealth of culture and traditions.
Caleb, a Sergeant First Class, (SFC) has served in the US army for the past decade. She currently works as a human resource specialist, where she helps to process the paperwork of army officers.
Currently stationed in the deserts of California, Caleb has worked at army bases in South Korea, Iraq, Italy, Rwanda, Turkey, and Hawaii.
“Travelling to these places, you would be surprised at how different we are yet very similar. Like South Korea, for instance, there’s a meal that is included at all festivities called Kimchi. Kimchi is a meal of fermented cabbage, so it smells really bad, but surprisingly tastes really good.”
“Just like pepperpot and black cake in Guyana, it’s a must-have for the holidays. And in most places, Christmas is spent with family and friends.”
In Italy, their holiday meals are made up of a lot of meat. Their diet is largely meat- based, then there’s bread, a lot of fruits and wine.”
In some places people would decorate their homes and places of work just like in Guyana. However, I think, what I miss most about Guyana is the food. For instance, while I was serving in Hawaii, we made pepperpot, because my husband and I try to expose the kids to Guyanese culture as much as possible, but we couldn’t make black cake because there were no fruits for the black cake.”
Hawaii is like paradise, it’s warm there, so Santa doesn’t have a red suit and beard. He has a surfboard and wears an unbuttoned shirt. He’s surfer claus.
For Tanza Mc Almont, a Guyanese student living in China, Christmas is nothing out of the ordinary, since Christmas is more of a western thing.
“When you’re a student, you still go to class on Christmas Day because most Chinese are not Christians, the season is an event to sell their products and make money. There’s no spirit of coming together and having a feast.”
“If we didn’t have social media to remind us its Christmas Day, we would forget, because it’s just a normal day in China, just school and work.
“There are no Christmas carols in the streets or coming from people’s homes…you might only hear a few in the big malls and see a few lighted Christmas trees, there. For me personally, I put up some lights in my apartment and do my baking and cooking.”
“In some cases she explained that foreigners, (non-Chinese) would gather with friends. They might go clubbing or hang at a friend’s place, cook, eat and drink and that’s Christmas.”
Much like Guyana, Christmas in The Bahamas, centres on family and friends. Errie Samaroo and his wife, Meena, both school teachers, are residents of the Island paradise.
They explained that much like Guyanese, for Christmas, Bahamians paint their houses, change curtains and rearrange or buy new furniture.
“Lots of emphasis is placed on appearance of the home and a well-kept lawn. Bahamians also shop late at night to get the best bargains. A few families do exterior decorating of lights, though. The Christmas meal centres on ham, turkey, baked macaroni, candied yellow potatoes, peas and rice, fish, lots of sodas, and alcoholic beverages.”
He added that as a matter of tradition, families participate in potluck.
“This is where families gather at grandparents’ home and each person brings something different or unique to celebrate Christmas.”
Strangely enough, Mr. Samaroo shared that a Bahamian Christmas breakfast consists of boiled grouper (fish) with Johnny cake and bush tea.
“This is different, since (boiled) fish is not considered something to eat at a Guyanese Christmas. Guyanese living in The Bahamas, prepare pepperpot, black cake, home-baked bread, and cook chowmein, fried rice, and cook-up rice.”
“Guyanese prefer to spend Christmas at their homes, but would celebrate Boxing Day with other Guyanese eating and drinking, potluck style. Thousands of Bahamians go to bed early (older ones) so that they get enough sleep to prepare for Junkanoo celebrations, (Boxing Day).”
“We don’t feel the Christmas vibes like Guyana, where Christmas music is constantly playing in the minibuses, street corners or even blaring from homes.
Despite the difference, it’s still beautiful. Christmas in The Bahamas is more Christ-centered and quiet.”
Carrol Ramsay-Adams has made St. John, Antigua her second home.
She explains that certainly Christmas in Antigua cannot be compared to the festivities in Guyana.
“I have been here for like thirty years and it‘s nothing like home.
Guyanese over here miss home very much, especially at Christmas time. What you’ll find Guyanese will do is come together, invite their friends over and have one big celebration. We try to keep the tradition together, like with the food and so on.”
But for Antiguans, Christmas is very simple; they shop and decorate, but it’s nothing like Guyana.
In Antigua, people do most of their shopping at late Christmas Eve but not as much as back home.
Carrol says that if it weren’t for the coming together of Guyanese in Antigua, “I think that Christmas in Antigua for Guyanese would be quite bland. That’s one reason why Guyanese would return home for the holidays.”
Donella Stuart has seen several Christmases in St. Michael, Barbados.
“As a working mom I hardly have time to partake in the holiday traditions, but what I can say is that the Bajans observe the holiday quite differently.”
“It is quite simple, you do your shopping, take the children to see Father Christmas, (Santa) at the mall and exchange gifts with friends.
There might be craft fairs, house parties, street limes and so forth, but generally Christmas in Barbados is pretty quiet.”
The mother of two noted that “during this time of year, Bajans meet up at Queen’s Park.
There‘s usually a big celebration there. People get all decked out and head out early Christmas morning, for a concert and lime. The crowds are entertained by the Royal Barbados Police Force Band. In some cases, folks would attend Church on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day”.
A lot like Guyanese, Donella explained that Barbadians get together with their families and friends to celebrate the holiday.
“There are massive feasts with baked hams and lots of liquor.”
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
Tony Evans is among quite a few Guyanese living in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T). He explained that quite similar to most festivities in T&T, Christmas involves a lot of parties, liming and rum. Steel pan renditions of your favourite Christmas carols will most likely be heard by shoppers in downtown, Port-of-Spain.
“There is not much difference to me with the way Christmas is celebrated in T&T compared to other holidays, because Trinidadians like to party and that‘s what they do best.”
He explained that Trinidadians have a special type of music that is played throughout the season. The Christmas music called the Parang; an upbeat Spanish-style music. The season usually kicks off with Parang music festival.
“Trinidad is certainly a nice place, but there no place like home for the holidays. So for me, I would trade de li’l rum for some nice Guyanese-made pepperpot and garlic pork any day.”
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