25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE BY ANGEL NUÑEZ
New Year is New Year and you would think it never changes. New Year in Belize City is different from New Year in New York. Every community, town, city, and country has its unique way of celebrating a new year. However, a lot of people have asked me if New Year in the 50’s and 60’s was different from today. What do you think?
For one thing the weather was different. For some reason or the other, Christmas and New Year were always cold, bitterly cold. While today we have sunny days or at times rainy days, New Year used to be extremely cold compared to today. To go to the dances everyone used to wear their sweaters and even with that people were trembling. Mothers who chaperoned their daughters to the dances normally stayed by the windows surrounding the dance hall, but for the New Year’s dance they would have to enter and sit in the dance hall for it was bitterly cold.
Talking about cold, this reminds me that for the New Year at times the fishermen used to go lobster hunting for with the cold northerly winds, the lobster used to run in abundance during these times of cold weather. Therefore fishermen used to have to hit the sea at five or six in the morning, many times diving and catching the lobster using the hook stick or the loop. There were some experienced fishermen who would fix a net unto a pole and used this to catch the lobsters without having to get into the sea. As they say, “Necessity is the mother of inventions.”
Here is something interesting that was done 25 years ago. People used to go to the dances for New Year’s Eve or old year as they say in Spanish (año Viejo) wearing old clothes. This was symbolical, of course. Men dressed in regular working clothes and so did the ladies. No make up, no jewelry, no shoes. When the bell was rung at 11:30 for the “Misa de Gallo” or midnight mass everyone went home to get into their new clothes. Men would dress in black pants and white shirts properly tucked in and a handkerchief hanging out slightly from the right back pocket. Some men even wore shoes for this special occasion. The ladies would also get into their new apparel, put on the perfume, the jewelry and high heels and looking like princesses headed to mass. After mass they all showed off their new clothes at the dance.
Music was also very different for the New Year back then. The main instrument was the accordion and harmonica or mouth organ. Acoustic guitars were used for accompaniment. For percussions there were tom toms, maracas, two pieces of hardwood known as “claveles”, and oh, yes the coconut grater. The coconut grater was used for rhythms and a fork was used to rasp unto the grater to provide the sounds.
Another observation is that children were not out late for the New Year or for that matter for any social event. However, the children did get to see part of the dance. You ought to be reminded that dances back then commenced at 8 p.m. the latest and very punctually. The combo or “conjunto”, as the musical groups were called, hit their first song at eight in the night and one or two avid dances took the dance floor as of the first song. Within the next half hour, the girls would arrive with their chaperons, and a few children would venture to stand by the door and take a peek at what was happening inside. By nine or ten in the night, they would be taken home to sleep. This was the latest a young child would ever stay out.
Most dances held back then started at eight and ended at about one in the morning. However, the New Year’s Eve dance was one that had to see the sunrise. To encourage the older ladies to stay, the men served hot chocolate or coffee with biscuits around five in the morning hoping that this would wake up the chaperons. The young ladies were served strawberry pop, but never alcoholic beverages. Did the ladies ever drink? That is another story, but in all honesty, for the most part, “No.”
One thing that has not changed is the custom of hugging everyone you met and wishing them a Happy New Year. And so from Mr. Twenty Five Years ago to all of you, may your new year be a happy and prosperous one filled with peace, love, and harmony and may all your goals, wishes and aspirations be fulfilled. Feliz año 2003.