For many Trinis, spending Christmas away from home is nothing short of sacrilegious. No one disagrees with Susan Maicoo when she sings, “Oh yes! Trini Christmas is de best!”
Firstly, why would anyone want to skip the food: rum-soaked black cake, meaty pastelles, pineapple-studded ham, roast turkey, sorrel, wild meat, ponche de creme? Then, there’s parang music and carols on the radio, Soca Santa on trucks and fire engines, Christmas Day services that finish at sunrise. And oh! The preparations for the Big Day: dressing the Christmas tree, putting up new curtains, whitewashing the palm tree trunks and rocks that circle the Julie mango tree in the front yard, licking the bowl clean of raw sponge cake batter, trawling the Christmas flea markets and city streets for bargains, buying Red Delicious apples by the box. Children looking forward to Christmas treat in primary school, Sunday school, and in the villages, comparing and trading snacks, balloons, and toys. The annual pilgrimage to the big malls to see which one had the best Christmas decorations. Was it the elves and cottony snow at Long Circular, the sparkly Christmas trees at Trincity, the blood-red poinsettias in Gulf City, or the giant baubles hanging from the roof of West Mall?
But I did. I skipped Christmas at home a couple of times.
Christmas was the first time this tropical girl saw snow. On a road trip from Toronto to Montreal, my uncle stopped the car and woke us up to see piles and piles of white stuff gleaming along the highway. Tiny flowers frosted with ice. Sunlight sparkling on the white. It was so still. Then, on Christmas Day, there wasn’t any real snow, only flurries that melted as soon as they hit the window panes. That didn’t stop me and my cousin from making a snowman or rather, snow creatures: solitary heads with twig hands and stone eyes, that lay flat on a picnic table in the backyard. We were so proud.
A very British Christmas
There were times as a uni student in the UK when I couldn’t afford to go back home for Christmas so I spent the season with my friends and their families.
In the flat, before everyone went North or South for Christmas, we strung fairy lights and paper chains from the ceiling, made Christmas cookies, mulled wine, mince pies, and roast dinners, and sang along (sometimes, terribly) to the entire Lion King and Les Miserables soundtracks. There were Christmas markets too, stalls selling mini Dutch pancakes flecked with powdered sugar, chocolate and banana crepes, pork sandwiches smothered in warm applesauce, and real glühwein.
Ellie was adamant that I should spend Christmas as I did at home so together with her Uncle Bill, we went to Coventry Cathedral on Christmas Eve. I know they meant well but we left before the service ended because I couldn’t understand the complicated traditions. Plus, the church was rather cold and I was rather sleepy.
On Christmas Day, we popped Christmas crackers to don silly hats and read silly jokes. Afterward, we stuffed ourselves with roasted meat, roasted vegetables, and Yorkshire puddings smothered in gravy. But Christmas dinner was all about Ellie’s masterpiece, the trifle. Thick layers of custard, jelly, whipped cream, and cake, sprinkled with chocolate shavings. Surprisingly, no one (except Uncle Bill and I) touched the traditional Christmas pudding: doused in brandy, set alight, then served with warm custard. I loved it because it reminded me of a Trini black cake. After the meal, we didn’t go to bed like in Trinidad. We went walking! To Kenilworth Castle, sliding down the green hills and skipping between the ruined stone walls on a cold, gray Boxing Day.
Then, in London, when everyone left during the Christmas break, I headed North to celebrate the season with Dan and his family. Just like at Ellie’s, after Christmas dinner, we galumphed around Manchester’s suburban fields and muddy roads, chatting about philistines and Sigmund Freud. The cold air whipped my nose into a runny mess but I was happy moving about the landscape. Although Dan’s family also asked whether I wanted to go to church for Christmas, I chose to spend this holiday watching a play about an imaginary rabbit called Harvey.
Another Christmas I spent at Becky’s house in Kent. We watched Christmas shows on the telly and played party games with her grandparents and younger nieces and nephews. However, later on in the day, I started to feel ill and felt so bad that I took the train the next day back to Leamington. Becky later told me that her grandmother wanted to know whether the “island girl” was okay (bless her heart!)
Spending the holidays in rural Japan
Spending Christmas in Japan was different. People still went to work on Christmas and Boxing Day even though the department stores were stuffed with Christmas decorations, lights, and fake snow.
Kunito sensei invited me and Jesse over for a holiday dinner where we drank lots of sake, shared our first Japanese Christmas cake, and chatted to an old guy who had climbed snowy Mount Daisen that morning (he had pictures on his phone to prove it). Ayaka, Kunito sensei’s daughter, was the perfect diplomat, switching seamlessly from Japanese to English and back again so that everyone at the table knew what was going on. I also practiced my Spanish, chatting with a neighbor who had lived in Mexico for many years.
On Christmas Day, I took the day off work and Jesse and I went to Mount Daisen. We left the mud and sludge of Yonago for the crisp, white blanket on the foot of the mountain. It was eerie, the quietest we had ever known Daisen to be. For Christmas Day dinner, even though we couldn’t bake Christmas treats because we didn’t have an oven, we invited our friend, Fernanda, over for Trini fried chicken and fried rice, fresh strawberries and the most Christmasy-looking pastries we could find for dessert. She brought fresh bread rolls, wine, cheese, and presents and we passed Christmas in a very quiet yet sublime way.
Photo: © Hot Foot Trini
Have you ever spent Christmas abroad? What was it like?
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