Christmas nostalgia

In continuing to bring the Christmas spirit at home to nationals in New York, the United Vincie Cultural Group of Brooklyn (UVCGB) last Saturday night hosted its third annual Christmas Caroling showcase in the Fellowship Hall at the Miracle Temple Ministries in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn.

The concert, which attracted not only Vincentians but also a number of Caribbean nationals — including Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Guyanese and Grenadians — featured, among other things, carol singing, reflections, story-telling and skits, with patrons reminiscing about the “real” Christmas at home.

Even St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ New York Consul General Howie Prince — the former head of the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) — who assumed the position in September, joined in the fun, showcasing his talents and versatility, and ability to “fit in” easily in any setting.

He told the enthusiastic crowd – warm inside but very cold outside, as winter approaches – about his role in caroling, as a youth in Lowmans Windwards, his native village, disclosing that he was also renowned as the “Speech Man.”

He said his speeches involved going down to the Lowmans River and asking for “10 cents to cool my liver,” as patrons erupted in laughter.

Prince also drew the best out of the normally taciturn Mulraine “Mack” Richards, a former St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Windward Islands cricketer, and public school teacher in Brooklyn.

“You have to sing along, or you may have to pay the church US$200,” Prince threatened Richards, who obliged, agreeing to a duet with Prince.

Later, after the youthful, Jamaican Roberts’ siblings of Merisalyn, 11, Jonathan, 9, and Nicholas, 6, sang “Jingle Bells,” Prince remarked, in jest, that it was the first West Indian Carol.

When Mistress of Ceremonies, Dr. Roxie Irish, UVCGB president, asked him to elaborate on his statement, he responded, as the crowd “hit the roof,” that there was “dasheen in the snow,” referring to a line in the carol, “dashing in the snow.”

Irish, a former St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ national netball star, said preparation for Christmas Day was, as in most households at home and the world over, a big event for her family in her native Campden Park.

She said, a few days before Christmas Day, the old carpet was removed, and the floors and windows were thoroughly scrubbed and cleaned, respectively.

She said a new table cloth was made and covered with plastic; then new linoleum (carpet) was purchased and laid down on Christmas Eve night, adding to the nice Christmas “smell.”

“You go to Christmas Morning [church] service; and, when you come back, you get your cocoa tea and bake bread,” said Irish, as some patrons chimed in, agreeing with “yes, yes, yes.”

Other Caribbean nationals also told their Christmas stories. Trinidadian John Feracho, who lived in Barataria, with his mother, who had 15 children – eight boys and seven girls — said the children had “chores for Christmas.

“We had to whitewash the whole home, whitewash the stones [in the driveway leading up to the house],” he said. “Basically, it was the same thing as in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

“Next year, I’ll bring a Parang band [to the concert],” he promised. It was quickly welcomed by patrons.

Jamaican-born Carol Glasgow, whose husband is Vincentian Jeffrey Glasgow, said Christmas celebration in Jamaica was almost similar to that experienced in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

“I’m a proud Vincentian,” she first proclaimed, immediately garnering approval from the mostly Vincy crowd. “In Jamaica, we do [clean, scrub] the floors; we sit up all night [before Christmas Day].”

“On Christmas Day, we have fried dumpling [known as bakes to Vincentians], we have callaloo, we have liver,” Mrs. Glasgow added. “Our breakfast is very strong [heavy].”

“I support everything Vincy, and I have the best one [husband],” she continued, as the audience roared.

Subsequently, the Glasgows sang “Long time ago in Bethlehem” and “Hawk the Herald.”

Grenadian Ann Cunningham — whose husband is Vincentian Ralphie Cunningham, a UVCGB member — clearly did not want to be outdone by Mrs. Glasgow, declaring that she, too, had the “best husband.”

Mrs. Cunningham, who hails from St. George’s, the Grenadian capital, said preparation for Christmas in her family comprised boiling “a little sorrel with ginger,” adding: “We kill [ed] a little goat, and we have [had] a little beef.”

On Christmas Day, she said Grenadians “go from house to house to serenade, we parang.”

Donna Ash sang Nat King Cole’s “Christmas Song;” Velda Ashton, Vanya Jones and Laverne McDowald-Thompson, president of the Brooklyn-based umbrella Vincentian group in the US, Council of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, U.S.A, Inc. (COSAGO), sang “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer;” and Zita Adams, a public school teacher in Brooklyn, sang Jim Reeves’ “Old Christmas Card.”

The impromptu group, Sheka, performed a Christmas skit; Caren Charles-DeFreitas, last year’s Mistress of Ceremonies, read Christmas poems; and Dailene Irish-Bobb, Denise Alleyne and Dr. Irish sang “Jesus, We remember it’s your Birthday.”

All carolers were backed up by the UVCGB band, headed by prominent Vincentian cultural figure Gordon “Don” Sutherland, with new lead vocalist Shamika Richardson.

“This is a good time to celebrate the birth of Christ,” said Dr. Irish afterwards, adding that all proceeds go towards the group’s medical mission to St. Vincent and the Grenadines next year.

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