by Leo Gilling
Twas a different kind of “breeze”. The cool December breeze was one that was welcoming, soft, gentle, and constant, yet mellow and almost “christmasy”. It conjured up a change in mood, and then all of a sudden garden rocks, plants, walls and coconut trees were suddenly whitewashed as though it happened overnight.
I remember hearing the distant beating of drums that accompanied Jankoonoo dancers. This stirred up much anxiety and I wondered when that tall devil – looking man with short tail, head covered with the black zinc pan was going to appear on my steps to scare the spirit out of me. All of these elements set the stage for the season of Christmas.
People in the district of Oracabessa, St Mary didn’t seem to be in a hurry, yet there was much movement around the homes and lots of cross-the -fence-chatter. It wasn’t unusual to hear a neighbor warning “Missa Faresta a kill goat an cow tomorrow morn missis; affi get up early.”
Christmas season was the time for our own Coney Island, Jankoonoo, grand market, gift winning games, crown and anchor, food and drink.
I wasn’t accustomed to having a Christmas tree or a life size Santa Claus. But I certainly had my day of fun at Coney Island with ring games, the crown and anchor man, and all the community children with the popular star light, fefe, pi-pi gun, squibs and fire crackers (clappas & tunfabolt). I was always decked out as a two-gun kid, plastic guns and all. No one couldn’t tell me I wasn’t “Billy the Kid.
During this festive season our toys were purchased at the community produce market which was transformed into a sea of Christmas shopping stalls. The market was the commercial and social center during the month of December.
During the early morning of Christmas Eve my mom would rush to the yard of the local butcher, Mr. Forrester to get her mutton (goat meat), beef, and pork to season for our Christmas dinner.
The best breakfast was at Christmas and food was available all day. There was always ham, ackee and salt pork with banana and yam, chocolate tea, bread and butter (cut in triangles), cabbage & saltfish, nuff fried dumplings and fritters. All this took us through lunch.
However, the big excitement was when the head of the yard fowl was severed to make way for brown stew chicken. That poor chicken thought it was safe when it’s body was covered with a pan. We need not describe what happened next. We all know. Dinner was hefty with a plethora of goodies, meats and gungo rice and peas which was served after the longest belly-aching prayer.
Other things I remember about Christmas time are:
The followers of the jankoonoo dancers around the community; good food every day for the 20 days of Christmas; being off from school and share the Christmas experience with friends; the sound of toy police cars. The ones with sirens that had to be wound up; unpodding gungu peas ready for Christmas dinner; sorrel, egg-nog, ice-cream-cake, endless (black) fruit cake, pudding wet on the top; the light showers of rain on Christmas morning.
Though we did not have a Christmas tree in our homes the hoisting on the big one in the district square was the beginning of the joys of Christmas for everyone.