It’s that time again – the night before Christmas.

Christmas Eve, starting from morning to night was always a special day for me, more than Christmas day itself. There was something magical in the air as day turned to dusk. I came from a family that was never very rich or very poor, we sort of bobbed along in the middle, but my modest upbringing never put a damper on it.

I grew up on the Caribbean island of Trinidad so you know that meant no snow. A white Christmas was something I only saw on postcards and in movies. There were no carol singers going to door to door instead there was my dad’s boom boxes and ‘long horn’ which he used to play music for the entire village. There was no eggnog but there certainly was Ponche de Crème*, a more, ahem, volatile version of eggnog. Fireplaces were unnecessary since Trinidad was always hot enough to fry an egg on the pavement and Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra were often gently nudged aside for Daisy Voisin, Flores de San Jose, Byron and so many other Trini singers. While the more traditional North American Christmas carols were played, the staples were parang* and Christmas songs injected with a strong dose of soca called, of course, soca parang.

I usually spent this day helping my mum. The fun really began in the evening just as the sun sank in the west and the last dragon flies flitted away to wherever they usually go. Baking would begin around 4 o’clock in the afternoon or earlier and this marathon baking session would run till about 11 o’clock. We baked everything; pies, cakes, tarts and bread. You could always tell what was in the oven.

While mum and I tackled baking, my dad and my sisters dealt with the decorations. Our Christmas decorations were more party like and jumbled with no particular theme or order. We had no hollies or garlands or nativity scenes. Instead we had lots of balloons and streamers. The Christmas tree was about three feet tall and was yanked out of a box every year before it was placed on mum’s sewing machine in the corner of the gallery. We had so many decorations, you had to duck beneath huge balloons and streamers that would never stay where you put them.

As evening slipped into night, our windows and doors would be closed. It was time to prepare for the transformation. In another country this night would be a silent night, in Trinidad there was the low throb of a bass somewhere. Someone was having a raging party. Our old dingy curtains would be replaced with new, clean ones so that come Christmas morning when the doors and windows were flung open again, our neighbours would be greeted with a different view of the house.

If I managed to stay awake, mum would tell me stories told to her by her own mother and I might even be able to help her put my sisters’ presents around the tree. Santa Claus was never a mystery to me. I was never idealistic and was very aware that it was my mum who bought presents, also, there was that one time when she forgot the price tag on this book that she gave me and then there were those times she would drag me along with her to go shopping and if I saw it in the shop window and liked it, I would expect to see it near the tree.

But above all of this, what I remember the most of this day was that there was the feeling that everything was going to be alright no matter what our circumstances were. Everything always worked out. I will admit that things have changed; there are no longer any marathon baking sessions, no more stories, no more balloons and streamers, there is a much bigger Christmas tree and we’re one family member short. There is a new magic though. It’s the magic of knowing that no matter how far away you roam, coming back home and being with family on the night before Christmas is magic in itself.


*Ponche de Crème – a more milky version of eggnog – with a whole lot more rum. 🙂

*parang – popular folk music brought to Trinidad by Venezuelan migrants of Amerindian origin