A Trinidad and Tobago Christmas


By Leela Ramdeen

Leela Ramdeen

Recently, during a “story time” session with one of my great-nephews in London via FaceTime, he asked me to tell him stories about what I did at Christmas when I was young. I shared with him some wonderful memories. Christmas is also a time for recollection and prayer.

Now that both my parents have died, our family delight in reminiscing on the wonderful times we had growing up with such loving parents. Looking back, I recalled how they both ensured that they gave us opportunities to practise the virtues and values that they sought to instil in us. Once a month, and on Christmas Eve, they would take us seven children to what was termed the “home for the poor” in Chaguanas. Each of us was given a bag of hot hops that my mother had baked, and an envelope with money to give to the men and women who resided there. Such action developed in me virtues such as empathy, compassion, and mercy. Ma was Catholic and Pa was Hindu, and they shared the same core values. Seva was an integral part of his Dharmic path. Ma’s life was one of service to her family and community.

In the early years we spent all our Christmases at my paternal grandparents’ house in Sangre Chiquito – the one in which Mr Girdharie and his daughter lived – in the film, Green Days by the River. I could still see in my mind’s eye the large Christmas tree in the gallery – branches painted in white, covered with angel hair, with strings of lights that had liquid capsules. And we would be fascinated by the sight

Parang in Trinidad & Tobago

and sound of bamboo bursting at the side of the house – the smell of the kerosene, flambeau, and the smoke that emitted after the “boom!”

As a Clerk of the County Council in Chaguanas, and later as a Member of Parliament for Caroni East (1961-1966), Pa was not a wealthy man. But we never wanted for anything. He would take us “window shopping” in Port of Spain before Christmas and asked us to point out toys etc that we liked. In those days it appears that children did not throw temper tantrums if they did not get what they wanted for Christmas.

We were always content with the gifts we received. Well, except for the time my parents bought me a lovely tea-set and I wanted to play with my brother’s truck that lit up when he pushed it. I ended up with a deep gash on my tongue and had to be taken to the doctor. We loved receiving books as well as toys for Christmas, and the younger ones in the family would listen to me read stories to them from Grimm Fairy Tales, Aesop Fables etc. The year Pa went to London on a scholarship, together with 3 Journalists from TT, the gifts we received for Christmas that year were special. Of course, I was “nosy” and dismantled my sister’s doll to see where the voice was coming from.

Ma was a true, true miracle worker. My friends swore that our dresses were “store-bought”. She would embroider them and use herringbone stitches along the neck of the dresses. Wearing stiff can-cans and our hair in curls, we four girls would accompany our mother to Church on Christmas Day. Those were the days when my three brothers fashioned their hair with a curl in front to look like Elvis Presley.

Christmases in the UK while my parents were alive were awesome. We migrated in 1967. As more and more young ones were born into the family, our house in Chiswick, London, became the “mother house”. Ma and Pa continued to nurture a deep spirituality among all in their family. What joy to remember Christmas days of yore, with Carols playing in the background, the smell of Ma’s black cake permeating the house, the chatter of young ones as they delight in their gifts and fill the room with torn wrapping paper. People would drive through the street to see Ma’s display of the nativity scene etc – all lit up – to remind us of the reason for the season. Cherish your time with your family, and reach out to those who are poor, lonely, depressed, in need.

Lord, save us from having closed hearts and clenched fists. Happy Christmas!