Thursday, December 23, 2010

OLD TYME CHRISTMAS IN CROOKED TREE VILLAGE

Traditional Christmas celebrations in the country of Belize follow ethnic, cultural and religious customs handed down from one generation to another. In Crooked Tree Village, Christmas is one of the most celebrated events of the year. This is the time that villagers prepare for all year long; the time that small farmers or plantation owners reap their harvest, which afford them money to assist in meeting family needs such as, buying toys, new clothes and shoes for their children; as well as family feast open to whosoever will. No one is turned away from having a plate of food or something to drink, regardless of their background or dubious reputation. It’s all about celebrating, giving and overall merry-making.
 The preparation begins in early December when most villagers would select a pig for slaughter. This pig would be confined to a pen, where it would be fattened up and eventually slaughtered early Christmas Eve morning. My father, like most men in the village, slaughtered the pig himself.  Using a dagger he penetrates the pig’s heart, pours boiling water over it making it easier to scrape off the pig’s hair, guts it, cuts it up and prepares it for cooking. If the pig was fat enough, the pig’s skin and fatty parts would be fried into chicharron (Chicharrón is a dish made of fried pork rinds).  Next, the intestines would be cleaned and stuffed with chunks of fat and blood, seasoned to perfection, and made into Murcia and/or sausages, and the hind quarters is smoked and prepared as ham.

The role of the men also includes the yearly Christmas pilgrimage to Belize City mainly to sell their produce and livestock (pigs, cows or chicken), and whatever else they have that is marketable.  The monies obtained from the sale of these goods assist in buying much needed groceries, the ever present stock of hard liquor for Christmas day guests, the twenty-five to fifty pints of soft drink of assorted flavors, and a few apples and grapes that is mainly meant as a rare treat for the children to have along with the homemade lite-cake (pound cake) and black fruit cake made especially for this occasion. After the slaughter on Christmas Eve morning, the men would then dress in their best attire and be ready to visit or be visited by friends as a way to kick off the seasons celebrations.
A house and kitchen. Forty years ago cooking was done in a separate structure. 
This is a house for sleeping, the kitchen is off to the right.
House and kitchen
Example of newspapers and magazines pasted to the wall.
As is customary, the women’s role is to do all the house-hold chores.  This includes the traditional Christmas cleaning routine of scrubbing the house from top to bottom, sewing new curtains for all the windows, installing new linoleum on the floors. In addition their duties include, sewing new clothes for the children, cooking and serving the traditional Christmas dinner, baking Creole bread and the “white” lite-cake and “black” fruit cake, and extensive kitchen and yard cleaning in preparation for the host of expected visitors. Since the homes were constructed of mostly wooden slats that were not suitable for painting, the women would also mix a pasty flour concoction to glue pages and pages taken from old magazines and newspapers to the interior walls.  This helps in insulate the inside walls of the home, which keeps out the cold winter winds, and improves the general appearance of the home. The children were also tasked with the job of washing the glass pint-bottles for the required exchange at the lemonade factory in the city.

Typical kitchens 40 years ago in Crooked Tree Village
Cleaning the yard
While the women were left to prepare the Christmas dishes, which includes the traditional rice and beans, potato salad and fried ripe plantain to go along with the fresh pork meat.  The men would visit from house to house drinking and feasting for days, stopping off briefly at one another’s home to sample the cooking and to drink some more. This is the time when anybody who could play a musical instrument or hit a musical note would join in the serenade to entertain the different households. The musical instruments would range from the old fashioned box guitars, an older man-sized wooden string base, banjoes, clarinets, saxophones, accordions, mouth organs, blowing paper through the teeth of a comb, flutes, home made shakers made from pebbles rattling inside a dried-out gourd, kitchen forks rubbing or scraping against a home-made grater or hitting in rhythm on a pint bottle. It was a festive time and was all about merry-making. It was also the time when one could learn a lot from loose lips, when the village men would talk and joke about any and everything. The women would pick up on juicy tips from secretly eavesdropping during these sessions and find out what they would never have found out otherwise. It was not unusual for some men to fall asleep and be left behind to sober up at a friend’s home and rejoin the crowd later. There were also occasional drunken brawls that were joked about long after the Christmas season has ended.
The Churches were also active at Christmas time. They organize their congregations into “Caroling Groups” to visit homes in the night time and singing Christmas Carols. The young men had different ideas though. They would gather among themselves, drink some of that hard stuff and plan their strategy to sneak up on homes with their favorite young ladies and serenade them into the very early morning hours. You would be in your bed in the early morning, when suddenly a mariachi-style serenade would wake you up to the sweet singing of a couple Christmas Carols, then everything goes silent again as the serenade move on to the next house. This is the time when guys too bashful and shy to approach the girls they fancy in the daylight hours, sang their hearts out in the dead of night. Unfortunately, this personal, lively and rich tradition has dissipated over the years due to the advent of modern electronics in the music industry. 
Children at church in the late 1970's

By Winfield Tillett

11 comments:

Lorenzo said...

Great article.

Cherry Cadle said...

Oh My gosh Linda, you are really hitting us below the belt on this one. All the memories just flooded my mind of my years being apart of this lifestyle. I loved my life back then and would give anything to get it back one more time. Love the picture of my Gramma Melia, I don't think anyone in the family have one. There are somethings that I still do with my family in keeping with traditions but that was the life even though when I looked at the pictures and the realization hit me that we were so poor but the amazing thing is we didn't know it and we were the happiest back then. Thank you!

Harry Usher said...

Hi Linda,
Greetings! Merry Christmas to you. And thanks and congratulations for all the information you put out to inform and inspire Belizeans. They are really good!!

Take care my friend and my best wishes to you for the New Year.
You are special!!

Harry Usher

Ellie Gillett said...

One of my fondest memories of Christmas was of pasting day... Mein I loved putting those pretty pictures on the wall... no ugly picha. The Kiss and Darling ones were the best... The way it was... Never knew someday I would long for days that at the time seemed so hard to get thru... Love you Mama... I have nothing but good memories of Christmas time...just wish ah cudda mi get ONE dally wid hair but I sure love dat one weh cudda mi bawl wen u giah wah lee swing. Cud smell dah li-cake inna da milk bax right now.

Paula Thomas said...

My my my..all the memories of childhood Christmas'just hit me. My fondest memories were going to pine ridge and cutting the Christmas tree then bringing it home and erect it in a bucket of white sand and wraping the bucket with Christmas wrapping paper. We had few decorations back then but Oh how beautiful that Christmas Tree was! Christmas mornings was the best when we would wake up early and see what was under the Christmas tree. I especially loved the dollie with the spool-like contraption in the back that "Cried" when you turned it over .. and how I long for the sound of my brothers' pop shop guns! Those were the days....

BERNADINE FABER said...

GUY'S THOSE WERE THE DAYS. I REMEMBER PASTING OUR WALLS WITH THE PRETTIEST PICTURS, MY MOM BAKING AND LIKE LINDA WROTE MY DAD AND HIS PIG,HIS PREPARATION AND PRESENTATION, AMAZING MEMORIES, MY MOM IS HERE WITH ME FOR THE HOLIDAYS AND WE REMINIS ABOUT THOSE OLD DAYS. GROWING UP IN CROOKED TREE IS PRICELESS. I TELL MY GRANDSON STORIES WHEN I WAS HIS AGE, HE IS AMAZED, OF COURSE HE SAY'S THAT WAS THE OLD DAYS PEOPLE DON'T DO THAT ANYMORE.

Jaron said...

I've been reading your blog for a couple years but this is the first time I'm commenting. Sitting in Afghanistan, it's good to have a connection to Crooked Tree, home for the first 19 years of my life. I especially love the pictures and smiling when I recognize someone or someplace I haven't seen in years. Today I had a big smile when I recognized the house I grew up in. Keep writing and I'll keep reading, awesome job. Thank you.

Jaron Jones

Linda Crawford Elul said...

Thank you guys so very much.

There's nothing I wouldn't do to go back to the days of old in Crooked Tree Village. As Paula said, those were the days!!

Jaron, first of all; thank you very much for your service and sacrifices to the United States of America, and for all of us. I'm praying for your safety and your safe return home.

Second, I had to call Teacher Clarence to find out why your house is on this post when you are the grand-son of my cousin Mary. I learned that Ms. Margaret and Mr. Hezekiah are your grand-parents, wow!! Never too old to learn!!

G-d Bless and be with you in Afghanistan. I have a cousin over there too; maybe you guys can hook-up. Send me your e-mail.

Bill and Debra said...

Love the old photos. Thanks for posting.

Debra

Linda Crawford Elul said...

Thanks Debs, this is exactly the type of house that I grew up in for the first 18 years of my life. No electricity, no running water or indoor plumbing.

But would do it the same way again if I had to.

Linda

Dianne said...

How are you doing my dear, I had to comment on these pictures on the Village Post. It brought back so much memories, tears of joy and sadness.

May I ask, how do you came across those pictures? The pictures I'm talking about are the ones with the old houses and kitchens, the church children of Crooked Tree in the late 70's. The first house pictured with the wide open double doors is my grandparents house, the house I spent most of my childhood days in, oh how I miss my Granny Suzie and Grandpa Rolanda. I'm so emotional just writing this.

The picture with the church children was taken at the Wesleyan Church, as a child that is how far back my memories goes, retaining and remembering things. The little girl in the center front is me...lol, how could I ever forget my little red shoe, I loved them so much. I wore them on almost every occassion, a bad rainy day totally destroyed them,and I ball my eyes out..lol.

Secondly I wouldn't have settled for any other spot in that picture but the front, that's the kind of little girl I was..still is..ha ha ha. I suppose it was probably one of the missionaries that took that photo, maybe the Throne's?

I enjoyed this post so much and keep on doing what you do best, hats off to you, I'm so encouraged by you and I'm so, so proud to say that you are a phenomenal woman and that we have the same blood running through our viens...I LOVE YOU.

One Love,

Cuz Dianne