Tuesday, December 11, 2007

WE CULTURE - Nine Mornings: Christmas the Vincy Way

by Karen L. Richardson

The holiday season has officially begun. Christmas is a time for family and giving, but here in the north, most of us expect only maxed credit cards and blustery cold weather. For Vincentians living in Canada, the idea of going home for Christmas costs more dollars, but makes more sense!

“Many people are excited about going back home for Christmas so that we could try to relive the early days. Celebrations at home are different from here so there is that excitement,” says Gideon Exeter, president of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Association of Toronto.

“Obviously Christmas has a different flavour in the Caribbean. There's no chance of snow and you're more likely to be topping up your tan than basting the turkey. Nevertheless, celebrations are taken very seriously, with traditional food and cultural presentations getting locals warmed up for the big day,” says Steven Veira, a graphic artist living in St. Vincent.

He’s talking about Nine Mornings. It is a holiday festival that cannot be found anywhere else. “Christmas celebrations begin early in St Vincent. From December 16th people get up in the early hours and parade through the streets of Kingstown in seasonal attire. There are also bicycle races, roller-skating, caroling, string band serenaders and dancing at nightclubs to keep everyone busy and thoroughly exhausted,” says Veira. Then, it’s off to work for 8 a.m.

As the name indicates, Nine Mornings is celebrated before sunrise for nine days leading up to December 25th. Its true origins are in debate. It is uncertain whether it began before or after Emancipation. One local myth traces the festivities to the Dominican Order of the Catholic Church in the 1920s. Parishioners celebrated the religious novena by gathering to pray daily for nine days preceding Christmas. Each service ended with processions either home or to the beach for a morning dip.

Once in the hands of the citizens at large, the festival grew from a religious observance to a community party. “In the earlier days, Nine Mornings was fun. The young people in the village got up early and walked the streets, often with our young lovers. It was a time to just stroll through town with friends. Later, it became commercialized with the staging of fetes,” say Exeter. The sounds of flutes and drums accompanied the impromptu street parades, and strolling became dancing over the hills and valleys.

For youth, Nine Mornings is akin to Carnival. Huge concerts at Victoria Park draw upwards of 8,000 people each night. In recent years, the Ministry of Culture has stepped in to sponsor free outdoor performances, featuring storytelling, carol singing and steel pan jump-ups, beginning daily at 9 a.m. In the face of a constantly evolving festival, the faithful of many denominations gather for early morning mass all over the country.

1 comment:

(Nurse) Karen said...

My only regret about this piece is that I didn't get to take part in the festival in 2007. Christmas in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is magical. Hope to get there again real soon.