Guyanese Christmas Down Under – by Francis Quamina Farrier

  – by Francis Quamina Farrier
While it is winter in countries in the north – America, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France and other European countries, it is now summer Down Under in countries such as Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. This is also true in other countries such as Botswana in Africa and Uruguay in South America – countries which are way down south of the Equator.

 As such, they spend the Christmas Season in a warm climate without any snow. Their Winter months are during mid-year. While on visits to Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and Uruguay, I recognized the weather realities of those countries which are Down Under at the southern or bottom portion of the globe.         

Recently I have been in contact with Guyanese who are residing in Australia, one of the countries Down Under, a country I’ve visited. I needed to find out how they plan to spend Christmas 2020 and share that information with you. First, Compton Nunes stated that his Christmas activities in Australia are similar to what he remembers of Christmas in his homeland Guyana. “You have touched on a very deep subject that is so close to my heart, and that is Christmas in Guyana – “Christmas Down Yonder” as I like to call it.” he said. Looking back, Compton spoke of his experiences as a youngster enjoying the Festive Season in a colony of the British Empire. “Like you and many others who were born in British Guiana and other realms of the British Empire, Christmas is very magical and spiritual and mysterious all wrapped into one.” was his summery about the Christmas Seasons of his boyhood in one of the British colonies of an Empire on which the sun never set.

It has been a quarter of a century since Compton Nunes left his homeland.  “I moved to Australia in early 1995 so this year will be my 25th. of celebrating Christmas in Australia.” In our exchange, Compton told me of the things which he dearly misses of the country of his birth, especially at Christmastime. “I miss Fogarty’s, Bookers and Main Street. Also miss my aunt and uncle who owned the Blue Light and Church Light stores in Georgetown. As children we all dressed up to go and see Father Christmas and the fairy lights. Missed seeing and smelling the apples and fresh fruits and nuts from overseas.”

Then there were the Guianese personalities of the colonial era. “Remember Aunty Olga Lopes on Radio Demerara. Remember seeing Uncle Forbes on his horseback when my father took us unto his property to catch fish.” The tastes and smells of Christmas in Guyana still remain with him. “Miss my mother and aunty baking of black cakes and tennis rolls and butterflaps.”  Compton took to Australia all the things he had learned to do about Christmas in Guyana. He just sent me a photograph of three Black cakes which he baked himself, and more to be done.

When I asked Compton about Pepperpot, his response was triggered by his most recent visit to Guyana, “Don’t get me going on that subject.” he said. “I have my last bottle of casareep I bought with me from Guyana in 2015, which was a gift from the Van Slytman Family of the Pomeroon.” Compton also mentioned the celebrated Guyanese Educator and Cultural Guyanese icon, Cecile Nobrega, who was his favourite teacher, and her poem “Christmas in Guyana” which she used to beam with joy when he recited it to her.

Based in Melbourne, Alison Buchanan plans to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with her daughter and grandchildren. She will also visit her 96 year old father who was registered into an aged care facility a few months ago. “We will probably have a few lunch catch-ups through December instead of one big gathering on Christmas Day.” is the plan of family members. The family also plans to have a barbeque in the garden at which garlic pork and backed ham will be the principal dishes served. Alison said that she will be decorating her home. “A Christmas wreath on the door. Fairy lights on the Christmas tree. A Nativity scene. Christmas ornaments from Guyana which have survived multiple moves, come out every year.” she related.

Tony Phillips is based in Melbourne. He is the artist who painted the Guyanese celebrities in the doom of the Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry on Water street when it was Barclays Bank. We have been in touch for a while, and previously he had gracefully given me first-hand information on the way Australia was battling the COVID-19 pandemic. He was also willing to share his plans for Christmas 2020.

Another Guyanese living in Australia is Sarah Mair Morgan. She has informed me that a Trinidadian couple who are friends of hers, has already invited her over for Christmas Lunch in their new home.

In closing let me include the following information about the COVID-19 deaths in Australia. In my article of October 11, the number of deaths in that country with a population of 25.3 million, was 900. Two months later at mid-December, that number has increased by only eight to 908. Please join me in extending “HAPPY CHRISTMAS and PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR” to all our fellow Guyanese residing Down Under in Australia.

Three pans of Guyanese Black Cake for Christmas 2020, backed in Melbourne, Australia by Guyanese Compton Nunes. (Photo complements of Compton Nunes)

Farrier in Sydney, Australia two months before the arrival of winter Down Under.

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  • Clyde Duncan  On 12/10/2020 at 7:07 pm

    While we reminisce of the days of old British Guiana, I got to give a shout out to my Uncle [my Mother’s Brother] Rudolph Stuart, who is 87-Years old and alive and kicking in Canada.

    Uncle Rudolph was the Santa at Bookers Universal in 1954 – because he was long gone to Toronto, Canada after that.

    I sat on the knee of this white man with hazel eyes and only found out many years later from my Mom that Santa was my Uncle Rudolph.

    What blows me away, today, is how many Guyanese believe that white people are not born in British Guiana. I still get retorts like “Are you serious, Clyde?” or “You mean Portuguese?” No! I mean “white”.

    Sorry to intrude Francis Quamina Farrier, but while we are being nostalgic about B.G., I couldn’t help myself.

    Of course, while I am here – I should give a shout out to Helen Martin, author of the book: “Walk Wit’ Me…: All Ova Guyana”

    And, my Australian friends: John and Louise Major and their extended family in NSW.

  • Helena Martin  On 12/10/2020 at 8:15 pm

    Seasons Greetings! A big howdy to my fellow Guyanese & thank you for the mention Clyde Duncan.
    Australia has been my home since 1968 & while I embrace & dearly love this wonderful country & its people I still pine with nostalgia for the magical Christmasas I experienced while growing up in Guyana. Black Cake & garlic pork are always on my Christmas menu (baking on Sunday)& I will make Pepperpot from time to time. I will share a secret with you Compton, cassreep is not a problem since fellow Guyanese Judy Dyrting who resides in Darwin put me on to ABC soy sauce so you see you can suck granny when you don’t have mammy!
    My Aussie born picknies have never embraced the taste & least of all the aroma for our traditional garlic pork so they all congregate at our home on Christmas morning to enjoy a simple ham & eggs breakfast, silly sods!
    No Guyanese can ever forget the magic of the Santapee Band,, a sure sign Christmas was coming!
    Covid has been kind to us in the West so I sympathise with all those who aren’t allowed to visit and “knock a bottle/glass” with family & friends.
    A very happy Christmas & a brighter New Year to everyone, may God bless you all! Cheers!

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