When your body clock is trained by a grey and rainy England, time seems to stand still in the tropics. There are two seasons here - sunny and rainy. A slight difference in temperature and frequency of showers are your only cues that the year is passing, other than that it's always hot all year round, it's sweaty all year round, and the sun rises at six and sets at six all year round. Christmas therefore comes as a shock each year, and passes without you ever really feeling like it is actually there.
Christmas in Guyana comes with it's own set of traditions. In the run up to the big day it is all about cleaning, changing your curtains, and putting up the decorations - which include all the tinsel, santas and fake trees that we know and love back home, with the addition of plenty of big, bright fake flowers.
Next up come the office parties. These run pretty much the same as back home; a mountain of food gets eaten, the quiet one has a few too many drinks and shows their wild side, and at some point there will be a conga line.
And then Christmas Eve. You might expect this to be a quiet time for family, church and contemplation. It isn't. Chrismas Eve is one of the biggest and messiest nights out of the year. Early in the evening it is all about shopping, liming, and getting your photo taken with Santa and Elmo in front of a Hannah Montana backdrop. As the evening progresses, the street gets busier, the soundsystems get louder and louder and everybody gets drunker. There is a seamless transition from shopping with the family to wining, drinking and discharging your home-made aerosol flamethrowers. We wind up watching a spontaneous breakdance competition on the street, backed by a soundsystem made up of a car with a laptop sat on the bonnet and a pile of speakers on the roof, and accompanied by the sounds of bottles exploding under car wheels as they unwisely try to reverse out of their spots.
By Christmas morning my house is still shaking to the bass from the bar over the road, and Main Street is a wasteland of broken bottles. Christmas day traditions are food based - Pepperpot, Black Cake, Ginger Beer, Garlic Pork, apples, grapes and walnuts. Black cake is a heavy dark fruitcake and Pepperpot is a delicious Amerindian beef stew, made from casreep, which is similar to molasses but is one of the amazing variety of foods that can be created from Cassava, a starchy root vegetable that is the staple diet for Amerindians living in the interior (explaining life in Guyana sometimes leads to a neverending chain of smaller explanations; the role of Cassava is a long post in itself).
Boxing day in Georgetown is another big party day, with the Big Main Lime bringing people and sound systems from all across Guyana. In Berbice it is a choice between sleeping off your christmas indulgences and going to the races. I'll follow up with a bit more on the races in a future post...
Happy new year everyone!