So, this is Christmas. For those of us lucky to be born or raised in the Tropics, more specifically, the Caribbean, it’s always special. It’s the time for family. I loved seeing a notice from a company in Jamaica, reminding customers of the closure for the traditional holiday, from December 24 to January 2. We don’t mess with a little time off, we take at least a week. That gives most time to catch up and catch themselves, as we say.
Family time seems more precious, though. We are a region of migrants and that means younger ones fly away, mostly to study. Like good homing birds, though, they come back home, often. I was shocked to see my wife’s nephew, who’s at high school in the USA, training as a swimmer. The boy was a giant, at least 3 inches taller since I last saw him. He now had calves like a cow. Whatever his meal plan, it’s working.
Born in the Caribbean but raised in England, I see Christmas differently than most. I know the pinch of cold air on Christmas morning. Tiptoeing downstairs to see who was awake and if the milk and biscuits had been eaten, I had to be wrapped up warmly. I remember, now, a woolen, tartan dressing gown and lined slippers. Cold feet and hands would be ready to hold presents. Good grown-ups would already have gotten up and made a fire, so that crackling logs and a warm glow would cut the silence and the dark.An adult might be sitting in a chair, reading or gazing out of the window: “Morning, sleepy head. Merry Christmas!” Hot cocoa or tea, and a mince pie for first breakfast. Bigger food could wait. The eyes would look under the tree.
I laugh when I hear my Bahamian in-laws groan about how hot it is at Christmas. Never a real concern that getting out of the house would be a worry. How about waking to the sound of a shovel scraping snow from the doorway? That’s exciting, too. Some Christmas mornings are amazing when snow is on the ground and fresh powder to make snowballs is waiting for little hands. “Put on your boots and gloves!” No need to dress more than than. Whoosh! Gotcha! Nothing wrong with a little sledding on Christmas morning.
Big breakfast arrives. I hope it’s in your tradition. Ham and eggs? You don’t eat pork? Sorry! More mince pies? I’m never averse to a slice of Christmas cake and a cup of tea.
Big breakfast is the highway to big dinner. I still think of England and having to be seated at the dinner table in time for the Queen’s Christmas message.
Their dinner is an affair bringing the many sides of my mother-in-law’s family together. It’s the women who decide whose family dinner to attend. Men have to abandon their heritage for a few hours. It’s a joint production, though, to get the food arranged. Nowadays, email chains give instructions and assignments. Everyone is ready to do their part to make it come together. If they’re like me, they visualize the complete meal and would blanche (inside joke) if it omitted a key element. No risk of “Who forgot the turkeys?” Some family secrets have been passed down, but the baked beans are the tester for the tasters.
Dessert is part of the dinner, but apart. It’s now the work of one household that does baking for a living. Bless them! Alleluia! No simple Christmas pudding with rum sauce as my previous mother-in-law would serve, with mince pies and custard as an option. No, sire! Carrot cake. Pineapple cake. Christmas cake. Torte. An assortment of assortments. No point listing. I will be listing by then.
Toasts and cheers when they suit you. Prefer them before the meal, and before we say the Grace. Anything said after needs to be brief and funny, with due respect to those who could not be present.
Go to it! Fill your glass with sorrel and ginger and close your eyes.