My Christmas nostalgia

A caring economy: Do you really care?
A caring economy: Do you really care?

Believe it or not, my nostalgic memories of Christmases in the distant past are filled with a lot more music than food.
From both my childhood and my teenage years, my recollections today tend to be about the music and the incidents that revolved around the music.
In those musical reflections, the Christmas carols I still enjoy every year no longer hold absolute pride of place. Even the classic Christmas songs from the U.K. and the U.S. that I love so much are now displaced by seminal pieces of indigenous Caribbean Christmas music. Topping my list is Lord Kitchener’s foundation stone:

“Mooma, Mooma, would you like to join your sonny
I am over here, happy in the mother country
Darling, for the Christmas, your son would be really jumping
Listen to the chorus of what we all will be singing:

Drink a rum and a punch a crema, drink a rum
Is Christmas morning
Drink a rum and a punch a crema, drink a rum
Mama, drink if you drinking!
Drink a rum and a punch a crema, drink a rum.
Leh we fete if we feteing
Drink a rum and a punch a crema, drink a rum”

Next comes the timeless Kiss me for Christmas sung by the illustrious son of the T&T soil Kelwyn Hutcheon (and composed by Pat Castagne). I reserve a special honour for Lennox Gray’s original and highly successful foray into our own composition of music that is not based on the imagery of a snow-white Christmas. Lennox’s Around my Christmas Tree represented for me and for so many others a major breakthrough in the localization of Christmas music.
And yet such very local traditions have always been a part of our lives in many other forms. Parang is the house-to-house caroling with songs in Spanish and Spanish creole that we inherited from our Venezuelan cousins. Parang takes in the Christmas carol themes such as the birth of the baby Jesus, and showers lots of attention on the Virgin Mary. It also relates the dubious escapades of the marauding parang singers.
In the latter dubious category, my favourite is one that was explained to me in Spanish many years ago by Gregorio Sosa, Tom Sosa senior’s father. The parranderos (Spanish for parang singers) had begun to sing insulting words about the persons in a particular house who had refused to let them into their home because of the singers’ infamously freeloading approach to the drink and food of the families they “visited” under the guise of serenading their hosts.
The offended persons remained in the top floor of their closed home and retaliated by pouring on the heads of the obnoxious parranderos the yellowish liquid contents of a chamber pot which should have been more appropriately used for fertilizing the soil of someone’s vegetable garden.
That parang story also reminds me of the joy and pride I felt in the 1980’s when younger generations of Trinbagonians embraced the parang traditions and proceeded to compose new songs, thus rejuvenating and strengthening the country’s cultural heritage.
Please bear with me for one more story, equally authentic and illustrative of times past. In the 1960’s , early every Christmas mornin God send, Macky Toussaint and his brother would lead their small steelband out of their yard in Farrell Lane, turn right into Belmont Valley Road, passing Rose Bowl, Mohan parlour and Edward shop. By the time the spontaneous Jour ’Vert outburst of energy had reached Zed Road, the band of 10 or 12 musicians would become a joyous dancing horde of 40 or 50 revelers.
No further than two hundred yards up the road, right in front of the home of Miss Manzano (mother of Nigel and Raphael Herbert Cumberbatch), the police would arrive and break up the illegal but highly popular street parade. The musicians would throw their pans into the river and make a dash for safety, up the track that separated Miss Manzano’s home from Judge Davis’ home. My own mother never knew that I was always a happy participant in that colourful highlight of the performing arts, year after year after year.
My warmest Christmas greetings go out to the president and the people of the People’s Republic of Belmont, as well as to all other citizens of the Federal Republic of Tobago and Trinidad.
This commentary is dedicated to the people of the wider Caribbean whose sons and daughters have migrated to T&T and made outstanding contributions to the multi-faceted culture of the land of my birth.