Christmas in The Bahamas…….
You always knew when Christmas was near in The Bahamas, for the sounds of goat skin drums, cowbells, whistles and horns echoed through the streets. Dancers rhythmically moving to an energetic choreographed routine from the beat of these familiar sounds. The intricate designs of the elaborately pasted costumes align the shacks of the inner city neighbourhoods, as spectators turn out in numbers to support their favourite group. Whispers can be heard from every corner of the island, as to who will reign victorious on the day. This is Junkanoo, my memory of Christmas and how we celebrate it every year in The Bahamas, for Junkanoo is our version of carnival. It is said that the name is derived from John Canoe, an African slave who rebelled against the conditions of slavery. This parade perfectly sums up our historical past and cultural development. Its roots are customs of our African ancestors, as a way of entertaining themselves against the oppression of slavery. The slaves would dress up in masks and dance around to ‘make shift’ music and celebrate together, on the few days they were given off by the slave masters, that was Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve. Today, Junkanoo has evolved into a colourful, vibrant, artistic and jubilant festival, celebrated not only by the locals, but visitors alike. Cash prize is given to the winning group for best costume, music and choreography. Not forgetting its origins, Junkanoo is no longer associated with the oppression of the past but embodies everything that is uniquely Bahamian.
For many around the world, Christmas is associated with colder climes, snow, and gatherings with friends and loved ones. Although the latter is a daily way of life in The Bahamas, temperatures can easily be one of a hot summers day, as it seldomly drops below 22 degrees Celsius/71 degrees Fahrenheit. Not to be outdone, this does not stop some of the locals dressing in warm boots and coats, to show off the latest seasons fashions.
Because of our warmer climate, beach barbeques are becoming more popular during the festive season and as with tradition, families gather round to celebrate together. I remember as a child, my family and I would attend midnight mass, followed by preparations for a big feast on Christmas Day. This usually involved the entire day of door to door visits to family members, eating, gift giving and lots of celebrations. Then there is a visit to the annual ‘‘Carnival’ – a theme park which has rides, games and food. This continued on until the early hours of Boxing Day, when everyone would flock to Bay Street, for the biggest event of the year, Junkanoo.
The count down to Christmas is in full swing, and as we anxiously await the 25th of December, a day that many of us have been looking forward to, it is a time of reflection. A time when we gather together to celebrate Christ’s birth. It is a time when we evaluate our past and look forward to the future. Christmas has many meanings for many people, but however we choose to celebrate, it holds a very significant meaning, and that is love. Love for each other and love for the occasion.