CHRISTMAS IN THE CARIBBEAN:
Christmas is celebrated by Christians and non-Christians. Some of the secular activities associated with Christmas are quite charming and have become extremely popular all over the world. Caribbean people are involved in Christmas activities. They include gift-giving, parties, Christmas cards, Christmas music, The Masquerade and other activities
COMMON FEATURES OF CHRISTMAS CELEBRATION IN THE CARIBBEAN
The people of the Caribbean send Christmas cards to friends and family. These cards appeared during colonial times from the United States and England. The card representing snow was quite strange for people on the Islands. Not many people in the Caribbean use such cards today and the tradition of A White Christmas is replaced by sunny images of endless beaches.
Christmas music may be divided into three broad categories: religious, popular and folk.
Religious Christmas music includes hymns and songs used in churches, and classical compositions by composers such as Bach and Handel. Church members also perform as carolers (carol singers) in public places.
Popular Christmas songs associated with Christmas include: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Here Comes Santa and White Christmas are the most famous, like in the rest of the world.
The folk music is particular to each island or community. Yet the instruments used to play this music are mainly drums, flutes, rattles, tambourines, shack-shacks and the human voice. Occasionally sticks have been used to make music.
Christmas Radio and Television
Radio plays an important role at Christmas time. The stations always play a variety of Christmas music. They start Christmas programming around mid-November or earlier.
Christmas is the time for Hospitality. Families prepare food, cakes and other sweets for everyone: family, friends, colleagues, neighbours and so on. The boss in a company or a private person hiring an employee can often offer a piece of cake.
Redecorating the home
Traditionally, at Christmas time the house is turned upside down. It is carefully cleaned. If the owner has enough money the house is painted, inside and possibly out. The house can be redecorated: with new pieces of furniture, curtains and so on. In some communities, polishing and varnishing of old furniture is still done to be ready for Christmas Eve. Sometimes a ceremony is organized to celebrate the new decoration => house-warming.
In the street, one may see Masquerade bands, performing and playing their special brand of music at Christmas time. That tradition was disappearing but an effort has been made to revive the tradition.
The term masquerade comes from masque (mask). Masqueraders wear masks which are supposed to have some particular meaning or to produce some particular effect.
The main performers in a masquerade band are the dancers and musicians. In addition to the face masks, the dancers almost always wear elaborate costumes. The most famous costumed characters are the Cow Head or Wild Cow (with prominent horns), the Horse Head, the Policeman, the man on stilts, the Devil and various representations of women. Fabric, mesh, tinsel, mirrors and other items were used in creating their colourful costumes.
The dancers invite people watching the Masquerade to take part into the show. The Cow or Mule (which are really performers dressed to represent these animals) rush among the crowds. Small children may be genuinely terrified, but their fear is regarded as part of the game.
The dancers, whose attraction was their fancy steps, would do something special, trying to please everyone.
The musicians, generally costumed too, pressed many different kinds of instruments into service, but drums and fifes (flutes) were dominant. They play kettle drums, gum bay drums, bamboo flutes, metal flutes, banjos, guitars, graters, triangles, bottle-and-spoon and other music- and noise-makers as they roam the community entertaining the high folk and the low. Modern instruments are used increasingly. The saxophone and clarinet are favourites in some locations.
During the performance one or more of the members of the band would approach those being entertained in order to collect money, sometimes food, sometimes liquor (alcohol).
The spectators generally gave them encouragement. In Guyana, it is common to hear the lookers on shouting “Blow, man, blow.”