OF ALL THE HOLIDAYS, Christmas in the old days was one with a difference, and it always had a different meaning to several people, and yet, for all, the preparation was fantastic.
As early as October there would be a marked change in the atmosphere.
People would make special preparation for the annual Exhibition.
Men would order shoes, hats and cloth from overseas companies of which “Leonard’s” was the popular choice. Women’s dresses and other outfits would be sent from relatives overseas.
The less fortunate folk would shop for their material and so the tailors and dressmakers would be kept busy, sometime working into the wee hours to get work finished.
Very often after the Exhibition, these clothes would be worn again on Christmas morning either to church or in Queen’s Park.
Then, as Christmas drew nearer, housewives would be busy buying things for the home, foodstuff was especially attended to as they thought of everything that was needed before starting the household chores.
During the week, people would be selecting their Christmas cards and the Post Office clerks would be kept busy as long lines of people assembled throughout the day, buying stamps for letters, post cards or parcels.
On Saturday nights, there would be showcases with toys of every description and at Harrison’s Santa Claus would entertain the children as he danced and clowned to their delight.
The nearer Christmas was, the more tense it became, as every moment had to be utilised, whether it was redecorating, painting, hanging pictures or curtains, polishing furniture etc.
Preparing meals was a job which only the elder member of the family could manage.
They prepared their recipe for baking which was raisins, currants, mix-peel, rum, wine and stout. These were put into a stone jar, tied at the top with a piece of linen cloth, and left to draw for three days.
Then they mixed sugar. butter, eggs and essence together and added flour. They greased their pans, putting grease paper into them and then filled the pans. They were then placed into their Dutch ovens… a wooden structure, lined inside with tin. Lengths of tough wire would separate the spaces on which the pans rested. A coalpot would be placed at bottom and a damp Crocus bag on top to control the heat.
Their turkeys, ducks or chickens were stuffed with a mixture of biscuits soaked in salted water and squeezed out and adding thyme, garlic and pepper chipped finely. They were then slicked with butter or lard after being sewed up and put to bake.
Sorrel was cut and the seeds taken out. The remainder was then put in the sun to dry. After that, it was put into a stone jar, mixed with hot water and left to draw. When taken out, it was strained, sugar added and then put into bottles.
Ginger beer went through a similar process.
Jug was made up of peas – green or dried – salt beef, drippings from the baked meat, guinea corn, flour, pepper, seasoning and salted to taste.
Then there would sweet potatoes and yams cooked in the skin to preserve the vitamins, and peeled after, sliced and served.
Pork would be seasoned and potted and hams boiled, then cloves would be stuck in them to give flavour.
When all these meals were рrерarеd and served up, no one could complain.
Then there would be wine, rum and Falernum because it tasted sweet, but whenever they had taken enough, they would sleep until far into the next day.
It was a pleasant sight to behold when families assembled around a table set for several persons to partake of such well prepared food.
On Christmas day after returning from church or Queen’s Park or a drive, everyone spent the rest of the day at home. No one ever visited on that day. It was a day when families meditated, reconciling for future prospering.
They used to say Christmas comes but once a year. And every man must have his share.
Nevertheless, let us enjoy ourselves without causing ourselves and inconveniences and give God the glory.
A Merry Christmas.
This article was first published on December 22, 1973.