The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – Of Christmas Past

christmas“It is now the month of December, when the greatest part of the city is in a bustle. Loose reins are given to public dissipation; everywhere you may hear the sound of great preparations, as if there were some real difference between the days devoted to Saturn and those for transacting business. … Were you here, I would willingly confer with you as to the plan of our conduct; whether we should eve in our usual way, or, to avoid singularity, both take a better supper and throw off the toga”

Seneca, (4BC-AD 65) Roman philosopher.

We are frequently exhorted, mostly without further explanation, not to forget the true meaning of Christmas. Or, as it is so rhythmically put; “the reason for the season”. I suppose that this implies either that we are to remember that that this season is popularly deemed to be a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ or that we should dare to be Christlike in our conduct at this time and thus to be more considerate of the poor, to show love to our neighbours and, generally, to be a good person. From casual observation, however, it would seem rather that the true reason(s) for the season may be the unbridled commerce in the unnecessary (in the legal sense of that term), gluttony and/or a reprise of Saturnalia with the gift-giving, the continual partying and the presence of the Christmas tree, to remind of the inevitable return of the Sun in Spring.

You must not think from this, dear reader, that I am by any means a Grinch and, ever mindful that the annual celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ may be more what man would wish for Him, than what He himself commanded; in stark contrast to the fundamentalist literalism in most other areas of earthly existence, I am as much given to the secular celebration as anyone else.

Some of my earliest memories of Christmas include the annual affirmation of my late mother, with the onset of the cooler nights (and days), that “Christmas [was] in the air”, although she was equally quick to remind us morbidly that, by that day, “many hot heads will be cool”.

Those memories also include the variety of smells associated with the season. The smell of new congoleum, of new curtains, of furniture polish. Incidentally, I might be dating myself a bit with the use of the word “congoleum, a word that does not find place if the Oxford English dictionary or even the Allsopp; one that seems to revolt the spellcheck on my desktop and, according to at least one website, is not a valid scrabble word! It was simply a form of floor covering that was a de rigueur purchase for Christmas to replace the previous year’s, which, by then, would be showing clear signs of wear and be most inapt for another twelvemonth use.

After those early smells of preparation would come, as the Day neared, the more aromatic scents of fermenting fruits for the cake, of the baking ham; of the cake mix before it was put into pans and into the oven; of freshly brewed ginger beer and of the “English” apples that seemed seasonal back then.

Toys, apart from the obligatory cap gun or book, did not form an obligatory part of our seasonal existence nor do I recall feeling deprived at not receiving a Snakes and Ladders or Monopoly game; there were always friends that did who were only too willing, of necessity, to share. In later years, the greater fun would come from visiting and being visited by friends, either those of our parents or of one’s own. If the former, my brother and I might be invited to try a taste of alcoholic beverages – I remember one of my father’s friends advising me that if I drank what was in his glass that I would have slept “until Tuesday morning”. That phrase has stayed with me to this day.

Another memorable aspect of my earlier Christmasses was singing and church attendance . This was not owed to any popular custom or even religiosity on my part or that of my parents; it was rather that at around nine years of age or so, I had been inducted into the St Leonard’s Church choir; membership of which inevitably meant also becoming a part of the loftily-titled Choir for the Animation of the Sick and Incapacitated, ably led by the church organist, Mr Harold Rock. This meant that I had to sing at Midnight Mass on the Christmas Eve; for at least one of the Christmas Day services; and on the Boxing Day holiday, the adjunct group would be off on a tour to spread Christmas cheer to the inmates of the island’s then almshouses (now District Hospitals) and Children’s Homes. I seem to recall that Mr Rock eventually received some sort of gong [MBE?] for his efforts, but his just deserts would certainly have come from the warm reception of the Choir by the shut-ins.

Christmas is quite different for me now. I have children of my own and I no longer sing in the choirs, even though the words of the popular traditional hymns and carols have remained with me to this day. For those readers who would have sung last night the opening words of the hymn, “Christians Awake, salute the happy morn”… I too have been there.

To all my readers, wherever you are, may you have a blessed and enjoyable Christmas Day and season.

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24 Comments on “The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – Of Christmas Past”

  1. Vincent Haynes December 25, 2016 at 7:55 AM #

    An interesting snapshot of a traditional bajan christmas in days of yore,juxtaposed with a modern discovery and understanding that it was copied from saturnalia activities.

    As we continue to evolve a time must come when myths must be seen in their true light and discarded.

    Jeff,Happy Holidays to you and yours.

    Like

  2. Sargeant December 25, 2016 at 9:46 AM #

    Mem’ries,
    Light the corners of my mind
    Misty water-colored memories
    Of the way we were
    +++++++++
    The opening lines to Barbra Streisand song “The way we were”. My memories of Christmas mirrors most of Jeff’s except for the choir part although I was a regular Church attendee I spared the sensibilities of the congregation by not joining the choir.

    Is there a difference between congoleum and linoleum? Can’t remember when one became the other or if they were different.

    Can’t help wandering into controversial territory but since it is out there in the first paragraph there is no evidence that Dec. 25 marked the birth of Christ however the early Christians stated that was the date which was later confirmed by the Church of Rome, when it was asked for proof it responded “we have the papers”, in other words the original “birthers”.

    Like

  3. Anonymouse - TheGazer December 25, 2016 at 9:54 AM #

    Think you outdid yourself today.

    The phrase “the smell of new congoleum” spokes volumes to me.

    You also sent me ‘back in time’ to my own childhood when you spoke of a Christmas without that many toys. My wife always get me something for Christmas and (out of guilt) I deliver my gift a few days later. Now you have me wondering, if I my actions are merely a repetition of how I grew up.

    Don’t think too badly of me, for where I would neglect those closest to me, I always choose a child’s name from the ‘grab bag’ and buy gifts for him/her. Perhaps, if I was unable to afford to purchase Xmas gifts for my family, then I would be rushing to get them a Christmas gift. How strange life is…

    Thanks for today’s post .

    Have a great Christmas Jeff
    Have a great Christmas, all.

    Like

  4. David December 25, 2016 at 10:27 AM #

    The fact that gifts were not plentiful reflected on the economic state of the family. With a fat middleclass we now have experienced the vanishing of the ‘economic gap’ to permit appreciation of love ones to be reflected by offering things (gifts). Now this leads to another debate.

    Like

  5. Jeff Cumberbatch December 25, 2016 at 10:38 AM #

    Thanks, Vincent. Likewise to you and yours!

    Like

  6. Jeff Cumberbatch December 25, 2016 at 10:40 AM #

    You have a great Christmas day too, Anonymouse- The Gazer!

    Like

  7. Well Well & Consequences December 25, 2016 at 11:13 AM #

    Flindt has a fudge cake that is worth dying for on any xmas….and that El Dorado Golden Rum Creme Liquer cannot be matched by either Sheridan or Amaruhla, both favorites.., sigh.

    Happy Holidays Jeff.

    Like

  8. Jeff Cumberbatch December 25, 2016 at 11:32 AM #

    To you too, WW&C. My favorite rum cream is Sangster’s from Jamaica.

    Like

  9. Well Well & Consequences December 25, 2016 at 11:37 AM #

    Lol..will try that one as well Jeff, cant hurt.

    Like

  10. Pachamama December 25, 2016 at 12:04 PM #

    Everything about Christmas is a LIE!

    That purported educated people could continue, forever, with this nonsense defies belief.

    Its construction is a master class in propaganda.

    It encourages our enemies to believe that official narratives will always have currency.

    That Paganism represents the sacred.

    How such a fundamental fiction could still be made to exist demonstrates how ingrunt we are.

    Like

  11. Hants December 25, 2016 at 12:32 PM #

    @ Jeff Cumberbatch,

    Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year.

    Thanks for sending me down memory lane.

    Like

  12. Hal Austin December 25, 2016 at 1:09 PM #

    Had a wonderful Midnight Mass which reminded me of St Barnabas and the Rev OC Haynes. The Christian faith has some of the most wonderful rituals and I am forever grateful that Barbados is still a Christian nation.
    Whatever we do, we must not treat other religious festivals – Diwali, Eid, Hannukah, or any other – with the same reverence.
    A very Happy Xmas and a Merry and Prosperous to BU and the rest of the Barbadian family.

    Like

  13. ndtewarie December 25, 2016 at 1:22 PM #

    A GUYANESE XMAS
     
      When I look back on my life
    Before I had my loving wife
    I remember from my childhood file
    The good old Xmas Guyanese style
    Long before Xmas December 25th would come
    My village was astir be you foe or either chum
    Folks preparing the home with drapes and blinds
    And the Xmas cake by grinding fruits of all kinds

    Whoever had the oven firing it up with care
    As friends and neighbours go over to share
    Before December 25th   with the sweet aroma
    Every mother waiting in line up with her quota
    With buckets of mixed cakes ready
    That’s where would be the activity
    With the women gossiping
                            And kids and pets frolicking
                            A fairylike atmosphere is taken on
                            With very happy banter by everyone
    And setting the cool jinger beer
    Was done by an elder with care
     
    What a blessed country with some of the best fruits
    Maybe it’s the silt of the rivers making good roots
    Most Guyanese have very good lungs
    Is it because of the sandy fine dungs
    Guyanese girls have the sweetest lips
    Is it because of the ripe juicy genips
    We don’t get cancer and have strong teeth
    Is it because of the sugar cane or laba meat
    No fruit can be compared with the sapodilla
    Star-apple, Buxton spice mango or the cowa
    Don’t get me started on ground provisions bhaya!
    The eddoes, tanias, the bell yams and the cassava
    All boiled with coconut milk and hassar and lil’ bhagee
    And you have a delicious meal for the gods called metagee

    A Guyanese Christmas is unique for sure
    Can never be understood by a NA culture
    Of hamburger, hotdogs and some spaghetti
    As I eating my dholl puri and mutton curry
    Our six peoples each have a tasty dish
                            Some still enjoy foo foo and salt fish
    And from waterside to the sand reef
                            Our Muslim brothers prefer their beef
                            And from Corentyne or Buxton
    The Hindus mostly eat mutton
    During this time the air is filled with jukeboxes
                            To describe it there aren’t any modern phrases
    Blasting of melodious Indian songs and chatney
                            From a people known for their fine hospitality

    There is no good or proper real Christmas over here
    Without a piece of fruitcake and a glass of ginger beer
    Here there there’s so much stupid eye pass
    Some don’t want you to say merry Xmas
    The faiths are so afraid to connect
    Cause you’ve to be politically correct
    Keep your fake Xmas tree and darn snow
    Shoveling your snow only make me blow
    One day one day I hope in my lifetime alas!
    Yes I still can have my old Guyanese Xmas

    AND YOU HAVE A MERRY XMAS & A HAPPY NEW YEAR TOO!

    Like

  14. charles skeete December 25, 2016 at 4:25 PM #

    “Another memorable aspect of my earlier Christmasses was singing and church attendance . This was not owed to any popular custom or even religiosity on my part or that of my parents; it was rather that at around nine years of age or so, I had been inducted into the St Leonard’s Church choir; membership of which inevitably meant also becoming a part of the loftily-titled Choir for the Animation of the Sick and Incapacitated, ably led by the church organist, Mr Harold Rock. This meant that I had to sing at Midnight Mass on the Christmas Eve; for at least one of the Christmas Day services; and on the Boxing Day holiday, the adjunct group would be off on a tour to spread Christmas cheer to the inmates of the island’s then almshouses (now District Hospitals) and Children’s Homes. I seem to recall that Mr Rock eventually received some sort of gong [MBE?] for his efforts, but his just deserts would certainly have come from the warm reception of the Choir by the shut-ins.”

    I can attest to the above- truly memorable and the memory remains with me up to this day

    Like

  15. fopafud December 25, 2016 at 4:54 PM #

    a

    Like

  16. de pedantic Dribbler December 25, 2016 at 5:25 PM #

    @Jeff Cumberbath, as usual a good read as the others have noted. Not sure if we are all ageing ourselves but your words resonated with me as well.

    May you have continued home-runs in 2017.

    @Anonymous, I will now never feel guilty again for harboring similar thoughts to your ‘malaise’ with this ‘de rigueur’ Christmas gift-giving. It seems so wrong-headed to me.

    @David re “The fact that gifts were not plentiful reflected on the economic state of the family. With a fat middle-class we now have experienced the vanishing of the ‘economic gap’ to permit appreciation of love ones to be reflected by offering things (gifts). Now this leads to another debate.”

    Unfortunately, that supposed vanishing ‘economic gap’ is truly an entire other debate about the corruption of our society.

    I would trade some (not all) of this Christmas economic plunder for the idealistic sense (appearance) of comity and friendship that abounds at this time.

    Like Jeff I absolutely loved the visiting to and from our home and those of friends.

    Are all the imported, foolish toys (hatchamals,today; pet rock – many years back – and other stuff ) really necessary. Of course not. (As a lad that place Laurie’s on Bay Street seemed like some alien location with all those ‘other world’ toys)

    Some relaxation, good food, friendship, youthful exuberance and a whole lot of love and warmth…can do the trick. Well and an ode to Jesus of course…it is his holiday after all.

    @Hal Austin re…”Whatever we do, we MUST NOT (my emphasis) treat other religious festivals – Diwali, Eid, Hannukah, or any other – with the same reverence.”

    I get where you are trending with those remarks.. But I suspect it’s that platform from which the Crusades then the Knights Templars et al to this day were launched too!

    We have to treat the other religions with respect but it’s a delicate balance to maintain the supremacy of the overarching Christendom.

    So at the end of the day we either stop immigration or basically convert the immigrants.

    The ISIS option (like that of the Templars) is a tad impossible to sustain when we feel we have lost that supremacy and reverence.

    Like

  17. Bernard Codrington. December 25, 2016 at 6:04 PM #

    Another trip down Memory Lane, Jeff. We all seem to be getting old. I also sang in a choir with Harold Rock as organist at St, Johns Church. A very talented organist and musician he was. But very patient choir master.
    Linoleum and congoleum were used interchangeably by us in the country. Jeff the fruits could not ferment with all the wine,stout, falernum and dark rum . The steeping in the alcohol made it easier to mince the dried fruits.
    Have a Happy Xmas and I hope the wife kept you out of the Kitchen.

    Like

  18. vincent haynes December 25, 2016 at 7:08 PM #

    DpD

    Banish all religions……problem solved.

    Like

  19. Gabriel December 25, 2016 at 7:45 PM #

    Harold Rock and DaCosta Edwards are the names I can recall bringing some joy to the hearts of the the earthy Bajan folk.The tradition of rigorous housecleaning( it’s called to this day. ‘pulling down de house’) is still with us and I marvel at this tradition so alive and well in a modern day Barbados.Linoleum/Congoleum had a unique smell as did the O’Cedar furniture polish.Another favourite 4711 cologne/after shower fragrance,Yardley’s brilliantine,Cussons soaps are no longer to be found in Barbados since “independence”.Most of those items originated in the U.K. but we tend to buy from the US since ’66.I am surprised,given our proximity to the US we are not importing Cadillac and Chrysler,Dodge etc and driving on the right side of the road.Instead we support Korea and Japan neither of which country invest in our island and which people have shown a dislike for our ethnicity.Back to the Xmas of old,one has memories of the Industrial Exhibition as a precursor to the Season of Merriment meeting the opposites in the park on the last day,the Thursday and hoping for a ‘hold hand’ to see you through another year.Most of us were choristers since the church had such tremendous influence in our lives and the 5am mass was a must for everyone.Those old habits die hard but like my Mum who was born just after the turn of the 20th century,those were the good old days which we hanker for to replace the wonders of the Information Age.
    Have a good one Jeff.

    Like

  20. Piece Uh De Rock Yeah Right - INRI December 26, 2016 at 8:13 AM #

    Merry Christmas to you all

    Like

  21. Dompey December 26, 2016 at 10:20 AM #

    Hal Austin

    You cannot assert a collective-directive to the inhabitants of our little island to refrain from attributing the same adulation to other belief as does Christianity because that in of itself undermines what the entire Christian faith stands to represent. The Christian faith is predicated upon self-determination or the liberty of the average man to choose as he sees fit.

    Like

  22. Dompey December 26, 2016 at 10:24 AM #

    Piece

    I thought the Death Angel had given a call for a quick second, but I felt a sigh of relief when I saw your contribution this morning old man.

    Like

  23. Alvin Cummins December 30, 2016 at 10:46 AM #

    Jeff,
    Merry Christmas..no Happy New Year, since christmas has passed. Ah memories; my side: singing in the St. Mary’s Augmented Choir, with Bentley Callender, much earlier in my youth, waking up Christmas morning to see what Santa brought to put in the pillow case -in place of stocking, hung over the bed- a small tin of Powder, and a small Tiddly-Winks, remember them? Not much but joyfully accepted. My mother did not have much, but what she had she willing shared;having a Christmas Party for even poorer kids, with a Christmas tree made out of a piece of Cherry Tree with pieces of cotton wool to decorate. Little sufficed to bring happiness in those days.
    May the New Year bring you continued good health and happiness. Keep writing.;

    Like

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