Mark Titus, Gleaner Writer
Western Bureau:A lavish celebration of Christmas has been an integral part of the Jamaican experience dating back many years and for old-timers, like Sheila Hamilton of Treasure Beach, in St Elizabeth, the memories of bygone years are still sweet and refreshing.
According to Hamilton, who will be celebrating her 79th birthday this Christmas Day, apart from Easter, back in her childhood days, Christmas was the only time that each child would be privileged to get a bun for himself.
Unlike now, Hamilton said there were no Barbie dolls, noting that all the toys the children got were made from old cigarette boxes or any other item that folks could lay their hands on.
"Christmas was really Christmas then," recalled Hamilton. "While we did not have the things that youngsters have nowadays, it was still the greatest time of my life.
"Refrigerators, stoves, radio, or television weren't around in those days, so the creng-creng (a primitive meat-storage gadget) was used to keep meat fresh," said Hamilton. "Even baking the pudding meant that we would have to time it by watching our shadow."
ALL ABOUT FUN
According to Hamilton, as part of the lead-up to Christmas, each child in each family was tasked to go out and collect at least four bundles of firewood, which was used for cooking and baking.
"For entertainment, the adults would bring out the rhumba box, pipe, guitar, and banjo, and people would sing and dance all night," said a reflective Hamilton. "This would be kept in an open area and there would be the maypole, where people went and danced," she recalled.
"Christmas was strictly for family," Hamilton added. "The communities were not wealthy, but everyone was happy … . There was no such thing as Santa Claus back then. The greater focus was always on reading.
"No one knew about toys back then," continued Hamilton. "So every gift would be some form of reading material. Even in raising my five children, I never purchased toys. It was all about books, books, books."
While Hamilton would not exchange her childhood experiences for the world, she is nonetheless appreciative of the amenities which now exist as she looks forward to celebrating her birthday, the birth of Christ, and the joys of Christmas in a few days.
Like Hamilton, 72-year-old Dalsy Smith, who grew up in St James, also has fond memories of Christmas back in the 1940s and '50s when Jamaica did not have many of its current amenities.
"We always looked forward to Christmas … . My grandmother would take us into Montego Bay and we got a chance to see all festivities such as merry-go-round and maypole," said Smith. "However, the big event was the family Christmas dinner. You got everything - rice and peas, chicken, beef, port, curry goat - everything."
According to Smith, in later years, she use to look forward to going to Montego Bay for the Christmas morning concert and other Christmas-related activities.
"In my 20s and 30s, I used to look forward to the Christmas morning concert at a theatre that used to be on Strand Street," said Smith. "Unlike now, we used to see Christmas as a time of total fun and frolic."