Guyana has always had a strong spirit of diversity and inclusion. People of different ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds have blurred the lines of isolation to create traditions that embody the uniqueness of Guyana’s culture. The celebration of Christmas is no different. During the final days of the season, Guyanese will be completing their shopping lists, prepping for their extensive Christmas menus, and putting the final touches on their homes.
While for so many Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, Guyanese must not forget the reason why this holiday came into being. In this edition of Government in Action, Pastor Simon Harris of the Ruimveldt Life Improvement Centre discusses the true Christmas story and the Christmas message.
The Christmas story and message
“The Christmas story is what is recorded in [the] Scripture. This is when the angel appeared to Mary [and] said “you will be with child. You will give birth to a son, and you will call his name Jesus. He will be known as Emmanuel, [which means] ‘God with us,’” … A census was called for everybody to go and register. Everybody had to go to ‘GECOM’ in Nazareth… That is [where] the birth of Jesus took place, in a manger. As the story goes, because everybody came in for a census, all the hotels were booked and they had to stay in a manger… That’s a place where they kept the animals and the hay… and Jesus was born there just to show that the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords became lowly to minister to man,” Pastor Harris explained.
Pastor Harris added that this season of celebration actually has its origins in the Roman Saturnalia festival. As the community celebrated the return of the sun after a long winter, the church began commemorating the birth of the Son of God, Jesus. This, Pastor Harris said, is why Christmas celebrations are so universal. He said, the Christmas message, the purpose of Jesus’ coming to earth, is an important aspect often overlooked.
“The message of Christmas is when Jesus… as an infant was taken to the temple. There was a great man of God in that temple named Simeon and… the Bible says… that God had told him [that he] will not die until [he sees] the Messiah. And when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus into the temple, Simeon exclaimed… “Father, let your servant now depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen the salvation of the Lord!” … That is the message of Christmas: Salvation of the soul of man. He came as a baby, as the Christ child, but He grew to be a man and he took the sins of the world on his shoulder and he died for the sins of the world. That is the message. We’re no longer bound/tied to sin. We don’t have to live a life of sin anymore,” he said.
Pastor Harris fondly recounted the ways his family kept up Guyanese Christmas traditions while he was growing up.
“I grew up in the traditional way, where you break up your house two weeks before [Christmas]… On Christmas Eve night… you fix up your house. That involved polishing the floor, preparing the Christmas tree… In our home, there were two things about Christmas. The house had to look good and the house had to smell good. Pepperpot had to be simmering or boiling on Christmas Eve night, so you can get that pepperpot smell. And then we had to bake on Christmas Eve night so you get the cake smell. And then you get the garlic pork smell,” he said.
Now, Pastor Harris said, when celebrating with his own family, he keeps the Christmas message of salvation at the centre of all the festivities.
“I came from that legacy. Celebrating Christmas with my dad and mom, the message was not necessarily emphasised… the season was emphasised… When I became a parent, by then I had full knowledge of the season… the story… and the message. So, I grounded my children in that,” he said.
Pastor Harris offered this prayer for Guyana this Christmas: Enjoy the season, know the story, and understand the message. He encourages all Guyanese to do away with the lines that separate and to come together as greatness is ahead of this nation.
Christmas for all
Christmas is a particularly exciting season for the youngest members of this nation. During the season Government Ministers have travelled the length and breadth of Guyana to deliver toys so that every child has a small token to celebrate the festive season. Minister of Social Protection, Ms. Amna Ally, during a Christmas party held for 1500 children on Wednesday said that this is one of her favourite past times.
“I feel really good because this is not the first one we are doing. As a matter of fact, I’ve been to Number 53 Village [on] the Corentyne. I have been to Barabina in Region One. I’ve been to St. Ignatius in Region Nine… There are other Ministers who have been going to other communities because we believe in putting smiles on our children’s faces, so, we’ve decided on this gesture. In cases where we have not been able to go, what I did was to send toys for the children of the area,” the Social Protection Minister said.
A Guyanese Christmas
For the past few weeks, the streets of Guyana have been extremely busy as Guyanese flood the stores in preparation for Christmas. A few shoppers and vendors shared their favourite parts of the festive season with Government in Action. Here’s what they had to say:
Patrick: My favourite part of Christmas… is to be with the family and to have Christmas breakfast.
Roshauna: Spending time with your family, good gifts, eating food… lighting up, decorating, those are my favourite things about Christmas.
Sharla: My favourite part of Christmas is spending time with my family, everybody coming together. The best part… is [that] I always have a Christmas dinner… The food, the laughter, just fun times with the family.
Shania: People who are away from home… return home [for Christmas] to spend that quality time with each other and make more memories…. The love and the comfort, having people in the house fills the gaps that was missing for the months that they weren’t home… I can talk a lot about my mom’s food. She makes delicious pepperpot. She makes it just as [we] enter into the 25th. Exactly at 12 o’clock there is pepperpot on the stove prepared and you can go and eat with your bread or we Amerindians would eat it with cassava bread.
Joseph: For me, Christmas has always been the best part of the end of the year where everybody comes together and celebrates the birth of Christ. As a Christian person, that is a total celebration for us… Christmas means a lot… From [childhood] growing up, It’s always been like that. You have friends here and there. You go by your friends. You eat something and then go by another friend. It’s always about sharing.
Malissa: My favourite part [of] Christmas is going back home to Berbice, to my family where we would… shop together and decorate together. Decorating [for us] really brings out the true meaning of Christmas. You get to spend so much time with them and just sit around eating, talking about so many things. It actually brings out the true meaning of [togetherness].
Wayne: Every Christmas, my wife and I make sure we have enough food in the house and enough games… because we invite persons who are normally single, who would not necessarily have family members to celebrate [with] in a big way. Some of them [live] alone. Some of them are persons whose [family] members have passed away. So, we bring them to our home, we put on the best Christmas music…, we sing carols and we also recite scriptures which talk about the birth of Christ. Then, we plunge into the meal and after that we spend the rest of the day playing games… Christmas is about remembering what God has done for us and moving out and serving people in the best possible way. The hugs, the kisses, little acts of kindness and caring, I think that’s essentially what Christmas is about.
The shoppers offered these well wishes for the festive season:
Patrick: I would say to Guyana, have a great Christmas this year because I think we’re on the verge of a breakthrough with the coming of oil to Guyana. I think Guyana will be moving to a higher level and… particularly for young people, I think there will be so much that they can look forward to.
Roshauna: Make sure you have pepperpot and lots of food. Decorate nicely. Make sure you have Christmas music… Merry Christmas Guyana! Everybody enjoy yourselves! Be safe on the road, have fun, and share gifts. Christmas is the season of giving so give to someone that [doesn’t] have and enjoy yourself.
Joseph: Guyanese… live as one. No matter what race you [are] or where you’re from, we always celebrate each other… the food and the way we live together, the music, its just different. It’s different vibes… Enjoy yourself. Make this moment feel special with your family. [Spend time with] your family and enjoy every aspect of it and I hope the new year brings [everyone] success and joy.
Malissa: Continue to be prosperous and enjoy… the new year.
Shania: Guyanese should enter into the new year and spend this Christmas in love and unity and not be separated by the things that separate us right now. Everyone should come together and look forward to a brighter 2020.
Guyana is at a major turning point in her history. Celebrations like Christmas help ground Guyanese in past traditions, passed down from generation to generation. The message of Christmas reminds us that we are not bound by the bad behaviours of the past but rather we are compelled to grow together toward a bright and prosperous future. Merry Christmas!