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Spending the holidays in the Caribbean taught me the true meaning of Christmas

For writer Hannah Rose, this holiday season is all about nostalgia, gratitude and memories of past Christmases spent in Trinidad and Tobago.

25 Dec 2020

Last month on a dreary, overcast day, I found myself alone in my room, staring at a blank Word document. I sat like this for over an hour, trying to make a start on an impending uni essay. I felt utterly exhausted, vulnerable, anxious. My brain felt simultaneously empty and frazzled; my default state for the majority of this year. No longer able to fight the procrastination creeping up on me, I randomly decided to open up my photo library. On a mission to dig myself into a hole of self-pity, I trawled through photos of life before March 2020.  

After a few moments of aimless scrolling, I stopped in my tracks when I came across a folder titled Trinidad <3. The photos inside opened the floodgates and vivid memories came pouring out. I was no longer alone in my London bedroom, but celebrating Christmas with my family in our vibrant home of Trinidad and Tobago. Although I knew these images like the back of my hand, seeing them in this particular moment felt like a comforting hug of nostalgia.  

“Nothing compared to the comforting rush of hot, humid air that greeted us as we stepped off the plane at Piarco Airport, the faces of Auntie Julie-Ann, Uncle Pinsey and my cousins as they waited for us in the car park”

As the daughter of a Trinidadian mother who immigrated to London at the age of 20, we grew up spending the festive season in Trinidad and Tobago every couple of years. In the months leading up to December, I’d stare out of my classroom window, following the trails of passing aeroplanes. I dreamt of the breathtaking bird’s eye view I’d get of the lush, green island as we approached it on the plane and the awe-inspiring sight of beautiful houses nestled high upon the mountains, hidden in the landscape like technicolour jewels.

Nothing compared to the comforting rush of hot, humid air that greeted us as we stepped off the plane at Piarco Airport, the faces of Auntie Julie-Ann, Uncle Pinsey and my cousins as they waited for us in the car park with their minivan and the anticipation of pulling up to my grandparent’s coral-coloured house. These were the welcoming signs of home.  

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The humble yet spontaneous nature of Christmas in Trinidad is what makes it so special. My brother, cousins and I were all partners in crime. Whether we were making up dances together in the front yard, sharing packets of Jub Jub candies or being chased by our family dog, Rambo, we found the adventure in everything. Even in between our trips down to Carenage Beach or the boat rides we’d take to visit my Aunt and Uncle in Scarborough, nothing compared to being at home in Chaguanas. 

One afternoon, I remember being sat in the living room with my mum. I eyed up our kitschy, glimmering Christmas tree and noticed that nothing had been placed beneath it. Like many seven-year-old children, I believed that presents were the ultimate emblem of Christmas.  

“Presents? What presents do you lot need?” she told me, shaking her head. “You have everything right here.” 

I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t initially disappointed. 

That night, we all limed together outside of my grandparent’s front gate. In Trini culture, liming is a colloquial term used to refer to a group of people socialising in a public space. This was the part of our days I looked forward to the most. To me, liming was not only about relaxing in the familiar company of my family and our neighbours, but feeling connected to our wider community. This was the essence of life in Trinidad and Tobago. 

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Normally, I would break out my rollerblades or play hopscotch with my cousin Shania, but on this particular evening I lined my chair up next to my Grandad’s and basked in the world as it passed us all by. I focused on the remnants of clouds that were swirled across the dusky, purple sky and the steady chirps of crickets. The distant hum of Parang played somewhere in the distance as I watched the familiar faces of our neighbours light up when they passed by and said good evening. The earlier words spoken by mum rung true. I felt a deep sense of gratitude for Trinidad and Tobago, as it’s a people and the places I can call home. I understood that just being my family was the greatest gift I could ever receive.  

“The distant hum of Parang played somewhere in the distance as I watched the familiar faces of our neighbours light up when they passed by and said good evening”

When I finished looking through the photos, it felt as if these captured moments had gripped me by hand and pulled me out from despair. My family are not only the common thread that strings together my memories of Christmas, but ultimately hold me together as a person. I’m always my favourite version of myself when I’m with them. As a young girl, I was a wildly confident bundle of energy who rarely feared judgement. These captured moments of us all in Trinidad and Tobago placed me back into her shoes; the equivalent of her hand pulling me from the depths of pessimism. 

Unfortunately, like many others, I won’t be reunited with my family in Trinidad and Tobago this December. Whether you live a two hour drive or eight hour flight away from your loved ones, not being able to physically celebrate with certain family and friends is disheartening. 2020 has been a tumultuous year that many of us will not look back on with positivity. As people of colour, we’ve had to deal with the brunt force of racial injustice and the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Whether we’re unable to physically escape to the places and people we call home, or are processing loss, isolation has reminded us that health, friends and family are truly the most priceless gifts in life. I’m very lucky to say that I and the people in my life are all alive and well. I’m truly fortunate and grateful to have had family and friends with me along the way, as my love for them is ultimately what has provided me with a sense of stability. 

“I’ll have to emulate the spirit of a Trini Christmas here at home in London, by getting my doubles and pholourie fix from Roti Joupa in Clapham, drinking my Mum’s sorrel and blasting every Soca Parang playlist on Spotify”

So for now, we’ll have to rely on the wonders of FaceTime and Zoom to virtually connect with everyone in Chaguanas, as we look forward to hopefully seeing each other in the flesh in 2021. I’ll have to emulate the spirit of a Trini Christmas here at home in London, by getting my doubles and pholourie fix from Roti Joupa in Clapham, drinking my Mum’s sorrel and blasting every Soca Parang playlist on Spotify. 

The festive season is characteristically laced with nostalgia for a reason. I believe that sentimentality for the past should not be perceived as weakness in character, but celebrated as an important part of our humanity that encourages us to all live in the present and find hope in the endless possibilities of the future. As summed up by Susan Macio in her iconic Soca Parang anthem, “Oh yes, Trini Christmas is [most certainly] the best!”