I’m not big on holidays but holidays in Jamaica are pretty central during our time there. We run the gamut of the “biggies”, arriving before Thanksgiving and leaving well after New Years.
It’s nice to escape the Christmas hype of the USA to a place where the holiday doesn’t center around consumerism or the Gross National Product. We celebrate quietly with our friends and neighbors and the holidays come and go with little to no notice. As years go by our traditions get more locked in…with subtle changes along the way.
The most fulfilling holiday experience I had this year was to help with the packaging up of the gift bags for St. Anthony’s Soup Kitchen’s families. We gathered early one morning a week before Christmas at St. Mary’s Catholic church on the Beach Road. We were met by Father Jim, a Franciscan Friar who is the Parish Priest. I’ve never really spent any time with any type of clergy person so I didn’t know what to expect. Slight in stature but large in heart, this man is, in short, a wonderful and warm human being. His generosity knows no bounds and his spirit is pure. The man’s contribution to the community is enormous. When a stray dog got fatally injured by a car on the road in front of the Soup Kitchen, Father Jim performed last rites on the animal.
So it was us four volunteers, Father Jim and a sweet boy, mentally challenged and a neighbor to the church that got to work on the huge pile of stuff donated by earthly angels from all over. We organized the table by item – books, school supplies, clothing, shoes, toys, etc and then assembled bags that were age and gender appropriate. We covered everyone – infants to teenagers – and everyone got a toothbrush and toothpaste to boot.
The morning sped by quickly and by mid-afternoon we’d assembled 100 bags, each tied up nicely with a festive ribbon. The bags were to be distributed on Christmas morning, along with bags of food that each family would get that would include a chicken, rice, sugar, cornmeal, etc. at the Soup Kitchen.
A few days later Les and I prepared for our Annual Hanukkah Party at our house. Hanukkah is often called the “Jewish Christmas” but that really is a sad misrepresentation of what the holiday actually is. Hanukkah is also known as the “festival of lights” and memorializes yet another battle won by the Jews against all odds. It also celebrates the miracle of one night’s worth of oil managing to light the Second Temple’s eternal light for eight days until more oil could be pressed. The celebration includes the retelling of the story, which is Roberta’s purvue since she knows it best. We light a Menorah – a candelabra with nine holders, each night for eight nights to honor the miracle. We eat fried foods – potato latkes is most traditional, again, it’s that oil thing. While Les fried up the latkes, I made applesauce from scratch using a few American-style apples I found at HiLo and the wonderful spices of Jamaica.
We hosted a little more than a dozen guests that evening, munching on latkes, drinking wine and making merry. For a holiday such as this it is always such a blessing to have children celebrating with us. Tanya had her twin girls with her and our thirteen year old neighbor came by with his sixteen year old cousin to celebrate.
We “did” Christmas again this year at our friend’s home on Westland Mountain Road. She runs a Guest House so this year in particular our Christmas table was quite international – representing the USA, Canada, England, France and Sweden. We feasted on Turkey with all the trimmings as well as Rice and Pea and traditional English Mincemeat Pie.
I love Boxing Day. It’s not a holiday celebrated in the USA but it should be. I usually love to go to Long Bay and hang out with all the Jamaicans that come down to mix with the tourists and enjoy the sand and sea. I didn’t make it there this year but for the second year in a row our neighbor Hermine opened up her Bun-Bun Shop for a neighborhood “block” party. Tunes played starting at sunset into the night and Hermine served up her famous fried chicken and festival. We laughed and danced with our neighbors, our celebration spilling out into the street.
I can’t say I varied much from our usual New Years Eve plan. We started out at Canoe, stopped at PeeWees to wish Janet a Happy New Year and then ended up at LTU.
LTU was packed – “everyone” was there. 22Pac was spinning tunes, the champagne flowing (though the Coconut Rum was not) and we all danced and rang in the New Year together. At around 2:00am we made our next traditional move – up Hylton Ave. to our friend’s for some after-partying and sunrise watching from his rooftop.
We were once again awed and amazed at the changing morning sky, the Roosters crowing their “Happy New Year” song and being in the company of us die-hard “Sunrise Clubbers”.
New Years Eve remains my favorite holiday. Despite the “sameness” in its celebration year to year, as 2012 unfolded before our eyes, the possibilities and the opportunities of a fresh start did as well.