Christmas is in the air, so all of us Trinis abroad who can’t get home start feeling homesick bad.
We browse travel sites endlessly in the hope of an impossibly cheap deal. We find some family nearby whom we may have neglected for the past year, or we get together with other stranded friends to try to recreate our own Trini Christmas. We go in search of things that make us feel less homesick – Parang music and our food. Basically, we find a way to cope with our nostalgia.
Funnily enough, the very things we cling to are the same things that get us emotional. The sound of Parang has been known to make some ‘hardback’ men and women cry, like “I want my mammy” cry – especially a Daisy Voisin. And your heart can drop into your stomach, when you realise that you mightn’t be getting any pastelle or black cake at all.
In my case, “ah must have black cake for Christmas”, but in London, I couldn’t find it. So I begged Tantie, godmother, and every man jack for a taste of theirs, and I got their recipe. I learnt to make my own, and it tasted damn good too, as voted by those other than me, of course. (Anybody visiting from home, I need more rum to wet the cake please.)
But sorrel? Now that was a problem. Christmas isn’t the same without a large jug of the red stuff in the fridge. So off I went to the back of beyond in England, I had no luck, but closer to London I discovered dried sorrel in the Indian corner shops of Croydon, and…wait for it…fresh, yes fresh sorrel in the back streets of Brixton – not somewhere to wander on your own, but I was getting desperate. I know anyone who’s survived a Christmas abroad can relate, right?
Food is just one aspect of a serious Trini Christmas tabanca, though. I’ve learnt to manage my homesickness, and, this year, I’m looking forward to creating some new Christmas memories – fusion food, and fresh ginger (and maybe some rum) in my sorrel included (something my Jamaicans friend taught me). This positive outlook is quite a contrast from my first Christmas away from Trinidad.
As an 18-year-old girl with strict parents, I practically went skipping across the seas to university. I was free at last, and wasn’t looking back. But there is something about the Christmas season that makes you realise the value of family, so central to a Trini Christmas, and you miss them with a heartache that is physically painful.
I was with relatives in London that first Christmas away – but it wasn’t the same. I wasn’t dressing the tree – always my job at home. We weren’t going to church – an essential part of the season. And it was just too quiet – everyone polite, no quarrelling, and no fighting with yuh sister or brother.
There was no door-to-door visiting – judging who had the best black cake or who was stingy with the fruit. No catching up with cousins in South – Mummy quarrelling ‘cause everybody drink out the sweet drink that was only for guests. No having Peardrax by Granddad – and putting the special Christmas cloth on the table. No new curtains – house freshly painted and always some piece of new furniture to show off.
I was coping, until I unwrapped my presents. My mother had sent money, and she had got someone to get me exactly the present I’d asked for. That was it. Leaving the present on the floor, under the perfect-looking tree, I fled to my room to spend the rest of the day in floods of tears. All I wanted was to be home.
It’s gotten easier now, and, ‘funny enough’, it’s my foreign-born husband who gets the blues, if we go home for Christmas. He just wants to head back to Trinidad, as soon as he returns to English soil. Trini Christmas really have to be de bess, for him to behave like this, right?
Like me, there are Trinis all over the world who can’t get home this season. With the first, chilly breeze, they mourn the passing of yet another warm Christmas in Trinidad without them. For some, it doesn’t matter if it’s their first Christmas away, or their fifteenth.
They sit at their tables – alone, or with friends and family – thinking longingly of the open windows, letting in the sounds of Parang, and missing the sweet smell of ham, hot hops bread, homemade bread, pastelles and black cake. Yet they keep these thoughts to themselves.
They smile sweetly, and absorb the traditions and culture of wherever they are. Their children will never know what they grew up with. Does this sound like you?
To those people, I say put your foot down and make your stamp on Christmas. Be as diplomatic as you have to be, but don’t let your roots and your traditions be forgotten.
Christmas away from home will always be a bittersweet experience, but make the best of both worlds. I know it’s difficult, and as much as you tell yourself, “Well there’s always Carnival to look forward to”, it’s still easy to ‘tear up’. But that’s a part of life, as an immigrant. I’m sure that people of all nationalities get nostalgic too.
This season, I’ll be playing my Parang, eating up a Trini storm, passing on traditions, hopefully making it to midnight mass, and finding as many people as possible to share the season with. Now it’s just to teach the English about something called Old Year’s Night, and yes, we have to have a lime. I really have my work cut out for me.
Feliz Navidad to all of you. How do you plan to spend your Christmas?
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