From the Publisher, Amandala
In the old days Christmas was a time of excesses in the old capital, one of the reasons, the main one, being that the bulk of the working class had accumulated wealth during their long, tough months in the mahogany camps in the Cayo and Orange Walk forests. A second reason for the excesses was that the workers knew that if they ran broke, they could get an advance on the next mahogany season’s pay from whichever mahogany contractor was their boss.
The stories reproduced in this Christmas issue of the newspaper under the heading - Henry money no done, were written in 1979 by one of my paternal aunts, using the nom de plume of “John Direc’ly.” These were stories told to her through the years by her father, the late James Bartlett Hyde, who had been an employee of the mahogany contractor Bob Turton.
Apart from doing a total cleaning of their homes and furniture, replacing table cloths, linoleum, curtains, and the like, the women of Belize would cook huge amounts of food for Christmas, because it was the custom for roving bands of revellers to visit homes on Christmas Day, and sometimes afterwards. Nobody wanted to run out of food, and, even though it must have happened, it appeared as if nobody ever did.
Things Christmas are quite different today. Although the energy is always very high leading up to Christmas, and one presumes that there are still people who go overboard, so to speak, the reality in the streets is that there is a sort of frenzy, perhaps even panic, amongst poor people fighting to “see” their Christmas. This is because, I submit, the way the Christmas holidays fall this year, you have to figure, if you are a hustler, that you will be faced with putting food on the table for straight three days – Sunday (Christmas Day), Monday (Boxing Day), and Tuesday, which is a holiday because Christmas this year falls on a Sunday.
One of the things you have to understand is that there is no opportunity to hustle during these three days because nothing is going on in the streets: everybody is inside his/her home. There is usually a horse race in Burrell Boom on Boxing Day, but inside the old capital proper, everything in the streets will close down the night of Christmas Eve. You can’t hustle in the streets again until Wednesday morning, when some people go back to work. So, you have to have food organized for three days, otherwise you and your loved ones will likely miss meals on Tuesday, maybe even Monday.
I know that in the United States, the day after Christmas (Boxing Day) is not a holiday. I think hustlers in Belize would prefer nowadays for Boxing Day to be a working day. Long weekends on a whole are tough for hustlers nowadays. Everybody who has a little money goes out of the city on long weekends. Hustlers are left to fend for themselves, and what use is a holiday Monday if you don’t have any money to begin with?
When I was young and poor, I could go anywhere in the city and feel relaxed. Today, however, although the people who really have money know that I am not a wealthy Belizean, most poor people believe me to be rich. So that, when they see me coming, they don’t really see Evan X Hyde. They just set an opportunity to hustle something. This is not fair to me, but things are rough in the streets, and opportunity is opportunity when you are a hustler.
As Christians, you know that Jesus was born in a stable and laid in a manger by His parents, who were poor Jewish people from Nazareth but “on the road” in Bethlehem because of having to register for a Roman census. More than that, days after Jesus’ birth, His parents had to flee with Him into Egypt because King Herod had his death squads murdering all newborn boy children, because he believed the prophesied Messiah was among them. The very first Christmas, then, was really not about “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” and “Jack Frost nipping at your nose …” Mothers were weeping and gnashing their teeth in Judea in mourning for their butchered babes.
I’m not trying to kill your Pasqua vibes. I’m just saying that more than ever, in this city without pity, there are people who are worried by Christmas. They are not in a position to store up all the food they need for three days. You will note that I’m not even talking about toys for the children, decorations for the home, or drinks for visitors. I’m talking about the absolute fundamentals – food, baby, food.
For sure, we will find a way to “see” Christmas. We always do, don’t we? It’s just that the days leading up to this 2011 Christmas seem a little more stressful and frantic than usual. In some places, there is plenty, but in many places there is desperation. This is the contradiction of Christmas. In economic circles, it is called free market capitalism. They say that this is the best way.
Best wishes for the Christmas holidays. See you next week.