Many years ago, I left the Virgin Islands in pursuit of education and new adventures on the U.S. mainland. I remember all those years longing for home, especially at Christmas. Freezing temperatures and snow on the 25th of December was not my idea of a pretty Christmas. My Christmas was sunny, green and Caribbean.
I took great pleasure in making my friends drool when I described Christmas in the Virgin Islands as a most wonderful tropical event. It was vividly etched in my childhood memory.
People from everywhere descended on St. Croix. We were culturally versatile. We did the pachanga along with the calypso. Musicians came from Puerto Rico. Calypsonians from here to Trinidad vied to be crowned calypso monarch. We all knew their names: Kitchener, Sparrow, Melody, Calypso Rose, Prince Galloway, Short Shirt and others. I could hear the rhythmic sweet Calypso road marches that made everyone move to the beat as they sang along with the chorus. For days, we would argue about whose lyrics and beat was better.
Dancing, or rather, "tramping" down the street behind a steel band and merging with another competing group of steel pan trampers was an awesome moment of euphoria. On many nights, for blocks you could hear the tingling pulsating sounds of steel drums. Steel bands from all over the island competed in those days. There was pride in the musical arts.
Then there were the amazing last-minute patchwork of parades with scary masquerades, donkeys, horses. It was messy, yet colorful and spectacular. It was not Disney, but it was raw fun indeed.
Food was always plentiful and reflected our diverse blend of cultures. It was lechon, pasteles and mulcillas and all the other goodies like red peas soup, souse and kallalloo. Coconut candies, guavaberry pie and rum cake were also ubiquitous.
Just before Christmas, there was joyful caroling or singing aguisnaldos. Men and women, and school children played guitars and scratch instruments and went from house to house to bring the spirit of Christmas. "Mama bake a Johnny cake, Christmas coming" was the common refrain. Neighbors would peek through windows or came to their porches and joined the singing spectacle.
Strings of beautiful lights adorned King Street from one end to the other. Most times the lights worked and it was a sight to behold.
And, oh the makeshift Christmas Village. that was the centerpiece. After midnight Mass at St. Patrick's, we all went to the village 'til the wee hours of the morning. Everyone collected there to eat, drink and socialize. The festival village was certainly part of my definition of Christmas.
It was pure bacchanal. Very little serious work was done during this time of the year. The celebrations started off in mid-December and ended on January 6th on Three Kings Day.
Years later, I returned home and it practically had all gone. Tramping and caroling was illegal and the pathetic village opened several days after Christmas. The village looks disheveled and 3rd world. The event has not evolved nor improved; but it severely degraded. And, the spirit of Christmas was no longer the same.
Oh lawd, please give me a better Crucian Christmas Fiesta in 2005.
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