When it comes to Christmas, Caribbean nationals go all out to make sure they have the most memorable celebration. For diasporans, Christmas in the homeland is their biggest dream every year. They start planning months ahead, shipping barrels, before looking for the cheapest airfare, to have that nostalgic gathering with their families and friends.
Many travel Christmas eve to soak up the sweltering heat in tropical countries, spending weeks at a time to meet and greet with neighbors, to gaff about old times, and Christmas traditions.
This reporter, who has been making the trek to her homeland of Guyana a yearly custom to bring cheer to children at Sophia Center, an orphanage, in Georgetown, was this year in awe at the long lines at JFK airport, as vacationers, return to air travel after the Coronavirus pandemic. Hundreds, lined up, to present their PCR negative test, and Vaccination card, to be qualified to travel home.
But what was most amusing, but not surprising, was the suitcases were bigger than usual — an indication that nationals were taking full advantage to take extra gifts, food items, clothing, since they hadn’t the opportunity to do so in almost two years due to the pandemic.
Some were willing to pay hundreds of dollars in overweight fees just to carry gifts. The look on the faces of the immigrants was priceless, as they were told they were 10 or 20 pounds overweight. Determined to take everything packed, they were advised to pull to a corner to distribute the weight evenly between their luggage.
The lines wound their way for miles. Despite this, nationals arrived earlier to check-in, ahead of time of three- hour timeframe advised by the airline. One traveler was heard screaming to the top of her lungs as someone tried to cut her off in the line.
All for a Christmas back home.
Phillipa Morrish, a recent re-migrant, said Christmas celebrations in Guyana went on without her for decades. I would hear my friend say that there is no Christmas like a Guyanese Christmas.”
“I agree without fully comprehending the meaning of that sentiment. This Christmas, I fully got it. For example, I went to a store in my community, and bought four extension cords.
She said, “with a bright smile the cashier leaned over the counter and said, you got plenty fairy lights. I smiled and replies. Yes, plenty.”
I stepped into another store and bought three curtain rods. The triple length rods caused a homeless man to exclaim “Gal, you got big Christmas.” Again, I smile at this unexpected greeting and replied, “Yes, big Christmas.”
Where decorated buildings and food is concerned, my North American Christmas celebrations compare favorable, but in the areas of human warmth and friendly interaction, there is indeed “no Christmas like a Guyanese Christmas,” mused Morrish.
Guyanese-American Kay Ramdat, a travel agent who lives in Queens, says she looks forward to traveling to Guyana to carry-out her charitable work. She gives out food hampers, and clothing to the less fortunate in her village of Parika.
But what is most enjoyable, she said, is indulging in delicious black fruit cake, adding that she and her family would sit around the table on Christmas morning to eat pepper pot and fresh homemade bread.
Boxing Day, the holiday one day after Christmas celebrated by the British and West Indians, is when families visit each other, and sit around the table to talk about growing up and enjoying the festive season.
For Courtney Noel, who has lived in the U.S. for over 40 years, there are great memories of celebrating Christmas in Thome’s Drive.
“Getting my much-coveted GI Joe doll which yelled ‘man the machine guns’ when you puled the ring, memorable,” Noel said.
Another memory Noel holds dear involves time spent with friends.
“Partying as a teenager in Oleander Gardens, Guyana with my friends and midnight swimming into the new year — as well as pulling pranks like throwing squibs and annoying neighbors,” said Noel, who also enjoyed caroling, and sleeping through midnight mass.
He added, with a nostalgia in his voice, “I try to celebrate Christmas in Guyana every year.”