Guyanese Christmas celebrations in full swing in New York
Stabroek News
December 23, 2001

Dear Editor,

Among Guyanese, Christmas is the most celebrated of all festivals. For the last two weeks, Guyanese began making preparations for the joyous season. One can feel the Christmas spirit in the Guyanese communities with homes well lit on the outside and decorated with Christmas paraphernalia and the commercial districts teeming with people on Liberty, Flatbush, Jamaica, and Westchester Avenues not very dissimilar to Regent street in Georgetown.

A number of activities ranging from cultural variety concerts and parties were held at various businesses and more are planned for the next two weeks.

The season is usually one of expectancy, excitement and joy among Guyanese-New Yorkers. And they begin making preparation weeks before the actual holiday. As soon as the Diwali and Thanksgiving seasons were over at the end of November, preparation for Christmas and New Year began. Curtains were washed and cleaned. Many varnished the floors of homes and the exterior of several houses were re-painted and carpets steam-cleaned. The lawn was mowed and kept in immaculate condition. The X-mas tree, artificial flowers, and trimmings were taken out of storage and used to decorate the homes. Some families have decorated live trees. Almost every family has a well lit tree.

Guyanese-American children have played a prominent role in decorating and they seemed to have had a most wonderful time making beautiful ornaments and putting them on the trees. There is an abundance of flickering multi-coloured lights which line the windows and entrance to the home and placed on the tree as well; "castnet", "icicles" and other design hang down roofs. Houses engage in an unofficial competition for the best decorated and most lit title on the block, just as in Guyana.

An aura of celebration is in the air on Liberty Avenue, Richmond Hill, the hub of not only Guyanese but Caribbean commercial activities as well. The Guyanese stores on the avenue and the avenue itself are well decorated, comparable to any shopping district in the city during Christmas. Christmas music at full blast emanates from many of the stores and one can purchase virtually everything related to Christmas at any of more than fifty Guyanese and other Caribbean stores that line Liberty Avenue; there are also dozens of other Guyanese stores in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens that also have a full line of related items.

The Christmas holiday festival transcends religions. Even Hindus and Muslims partake in the festivities in New York as they do in Guyana; but with Ramadan coinciding with the holiday season, most Muslims were fasting. But with the fasting season over, even Muslims are observing the spirit of the season with their stores and restaurants remaining decorated after the Eid festival. Hindus and Muslims may not attend church mass, but like other Guyanese they prepare that special Christmas meal and holiday beverages and join in the "Christmas spirit" with the rest of the Guyanese and other Americans.

Everyone seems to be in a party mood for the entire season. In fact, there have been lots of parties and merry making, especially by the real estate offices. Ed Ahmad, a real estate tycoon from Meten-Meer-Zorg, held a party for staff, business associates and community leaders at his catering hall, Chateau Royale last Thursday evening. Other businesses plan huge bashes at five star hotels. Virtually all Guyanese businesses, especially the real estates and law offices, have Christmas parties. More parties are slated for Christmas eve, on Christmas Day, on Old Year's day, on New Year's day and on the Saturday night between the two holidays. Traditional Guyanese food, such as dhal puri, curried duck, phulourie, bara, channa, pachounie, etc. are served.

Many of the churches where Guyanese worship plan nativity plays and candle light services for Christmas eve. People are expected to go for midnight mass. Christmas eve excitement is expected to be fever pitch with the baking of the cake and bread. Also on Christmas eve, just as in Guyana, children are told to hang socks and to make a promise never again to use bad words otherwise Santa would not give them gifts. And lo and behold when they wake up on Christmas morning, there are expected to have gifts in their socks and all around the trees.

Christmas day in New York is not expected to be very different from that in Guyana except for the cold weather -- exchanging gifts and eating cake and good food and a glorious and festive celebration which continues for the next eight days. But unlike in Guyana, when on early Christmas morning, the sheep, goat, fowl, and duck are killed, in New York, fresh meat is purchased the weekend before; the butchers are busy these days. And the cooking is expected to last the whole day just as in Guyana.

Meals will be accompanied by mauby, ginger beer, sorrel and imported soft drinks from Guyana. And revelers will listen to Christmas carols just like they do in Guyana. Unlike in Guyana, the celebration will not continue on Boxing Day which is not a holiday in the U.S. But the festivity will repeat itself on Old year's night and during the new year.

No doubt, Christmas in New York is wonderful and joyful but the feeling and holiday spirit is not the same as being in Guyana. Many want to celebrate Christmas "at home". Thus, the yearly pilgrimage to Guyana becomes a tradition; in fact, all of the airlines, including Universal which was launched two weeks ago, are sold out, unable to accommodate passengers who want to go home for Christmas.

On Christmas and New Year mornings, Guyanese are expected to phone their

relatives back home to wish joyous greetings.

Yours faithfully,

Vishnu Bisram