Christmas traditions in Guyana

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From our finger-licking meals to the heavy bustle downtown, there is nothing that can be compared to Christmas time in Guyana. It is the most festive season in Guyana and is anticipated all year round by Guyanese, both home bound and overseas. It is a time where Guyanese from all walks of life, in spite of the difference of age, ethnicity or religion, come together to celebrate a joyous holiday.

 As Guyanese, we know when that special time is drawing near; we simply have a habit of playing Christmas carols way too early. It begins from the end of October to the commencement of November. And by then, we are already processing the moment when the big day is upon us.  

Before December, some Guyanese commence the preparation works which is initiated by the traditional “breaking up” of the house. This is a term used by Guyanese to describe the level of thorough cleaning and rearranging that takes place. We upturn our furniture, covering them down with sheets and plastics and move them all to a corner of the house.  All the ornaments, decorative pieces and wares that we have stored in our cabinets, on display all year, are removed for cleaning. If you enter the home of a Guyanese during this period of rigorous cleaning, you will realize two things; you hardly have a proper place to sit and the place is a total mess. And you might be greeted by the immense smell of fresh paint. Our Christmas cleaning can be compared, but is not equivalent, to an American’s spring cleaning. 

Then, there is the arrival of overseas-based loved ones who we haven’t seen in months or years. They fly for miles just to be a part of our very unique celebrations, because they know that no other country is as committed to this holiday and its many traditions like Guyanese.

Shopping is also taken to extreme levels; this is the time we do the most spending for new items. The curtains are taken down and new ones are purchased to match the furniture. New carpets are bought and rolled out and there is even fresh paint for the walls. Decorations are also purchased or reused from last year. Whether our humble abode is a colossal-sized mansion or a simple, moderately sized house, we decorate it to our best! There are wreaths, streamers, bells, bows, stars, and the magnificent and unforgettable Christmas tree with fairy lights suspended from the walls and roof of the interior and exterior parts of the house. 

But the celebration is not complete without food and drinks, our ovens are given a marathon workout. And although the traditional meals may be made once or twice throughout the year, they are most prevalent at Christmas time. You know what I’m talking about; the sumptuous pepperpot and that mouthwatering garlic pork! You can smell it, can’t you? Pepperpot, as most know, is an indigenous rich meal made from cassareep with beef or pork which is eaten with rice, cassava bread or homemade bread. Garlic pork is one of the meals the Portuguese contributed to our diverse culture where pork is cut into small pieces and left to marinate for days in vinegar and other herbs and is later fried. These dishes, along with roasted pork, are served for breakfast and a large variety of dishes are prepared for lunch. Of course, the special beverages to accompany these meals, for example, ginger beer, sorrel and mauby are always on standby. And last but certainly not least, the all-time favourite black cake is made with minced fruit and raisins that are soaked in rum for months. 

With invitations to events coming consecutively, how can you not have a good time in Guyana? Christmas concerts, many parties, caroling and Christmas tree light-ups make the season an unforgettable one. 

Guyanese also wear their best and are always present. Take a walk downtown to witness the crowds of shoppers and the masquerade bands.  Stores decorated in bright green, red, gold and silver displaying their bargains and playing Christmas carols. The air is accompanied by the steady, abrupt, sounds of exploding squibs. Persons dressed in colourful costumes, dancing to the beat of their fellow members’ drums and flutes while holding out hats and small containers for donations. Witness the tall “Mother Sally” in her flowing dress, the “mad cow” that charges at passersby or children and female dancers with large, stuffed behinds gyrating. It is a wonderful sight to witness.  

Christmas Eve is also one of the busiest days since it’s the day to do all your last-minute shopping and, at night, enjoy the many celebrations to usher in the “big day”. 

Christmas morning, for some, includes attending Church to celebrate the birth of Christ among fellow Christians; and for others, it’s spent opening the presents that have been sitting under the tree and being amongst loved ones.

Despite the hectic festivities for the season, let us not forget what is most important; from the friendly ‘Season’s greetings!’ to the open sharing of meals and presents. This festive holiday is all about the birth of Christ and sharing; it is about being warm and hospitable to all; it is about being grateful for the year’s blessings as we enjoy our Guyanese Christmas traditions.

Merry Christmas from the Guyana Inc. Team!

Article Categories:
Christmas · Issue 29 · Publication

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