No matter where we might wander, being home for the holidays is special. This is the time we connect, and reconnect with family, friends and loved ones. Being home for the holidays makes us appreciate the space and space for the unique ways we celebrate that make it distinctly Guyanese, as individual families, and as a society.
Ask anyone who celebrates Christmas and they will give you a list of rituals they participate in to mark the occasion. Even when we’re not home (in Guyana) for the holidays, we re-enact and recreate many of these practices to keep us connected. One of the most popular rituals is to ‘break up’ the house – moving furniture to one side of the house and covering it. The purpose is twofold: to make it easy to clean, polish and varnish; the other is that the place looks ‘plain’ so that the new curtains are put up, the flowers arranged in vases, lights and decorations, and the tree decorated, at the specified time . Many years ago, a good friend of mine in Trinidad who had a Guyanese housewife called me, got confused, to ask what this Guyanese ‘thing’ was about breaking down the house ?! “I’m walking in here and Brenda has turned everything upside down and covered it!” Five days before Christmas my friend called again, “Gurrl, the house looks great!”
Being a multicultural society, Guyanese, regardless of religious persuasion, celebrates Christmas in some form or another, whether that leaves the fairy lights after Diwali or mending ‘ r the house in some way. We, as Guyanese, love to celebrate each other’s holidays, from Eid to Diwali, from Christmas to Phagwah.
We go on a spending spree for the holidays, not only to decorate and spruce up our homes and environment but also on clothes and accessories for the multiple events we attend. We create a separate budget for food because food is at the heart of all celebrations. While we can scour books, magazines, TV and the Internet for recipes to make the Christmas table even more inviting, it’s the traditional dishes that make us feel at home during the holidays. This is why we go home, to savor the familiar, for comfort.
We are planners. Meats and poultry are ordered weeks in advance with detailed and precise instructions given to butchers, stall owners etc on preferred cuts and weights. Drinks are also ordered because there are some items and flavors, reminiscent of this time of year, that sell fast in large quantities – alcoholic and non-alcoholic. As the saying goes, ‘we doh mek sport.’
The taste of the holiday is as much about the smells as it is about the physical act of eating and drinking the seasonal favorites. The image of a pressure cooker hissing and whistling tells us that Pepperpot is made or that meat and peas are being tender for Cooking Rice. There is no need for fragrant candles or air fresheners when the gentle roll of sorrel, cinnamon and cloves exudes a sweet sweet aroma that you can’t seem to get enough of. The warmth in the house on a cool night as a ham full of cloves is cooked in the oven is delicious and delicious. You want to stay up long enough for the ham to rest once it’s out of the oven so you can cut a slice or two juicy and sandwich it between the slices of fresh homemade bread. You want it to be a private moment, just you, the ham and the bread.
We have a craving for bold flavors that manifest itself when we mop up the ‘gravy’ of the rich Pepperpot with Aniseed bread; eat decadent, boozy Christmas cake followed by cold, spicy, fruity ginger beer and eat shiny Garlic Pork that lights up the house while cooking. Not to be too old are the heady smells that come from large pots, like a pot of mutton, goat or wild meat curry.
While we can eat and drink many of these items all year long, the appeal and enjoyment of it are truly felt when we are in a familiar environment, surrounded by familiar faces, when we are home for the holidays.
Merry Christmas everyone!