Amina Blackwood-Meeks speaks about her family’s Christmas tradition
Noted storyteller Amina Blackwood-Meeks says her Christmas I'll Never Forget memory is not just a memory, but 'an experience'. And it's one she still partakes in yearly, because as with storytelling, the Christmas spirit needs to be continued through generations.
All her family members prepare their designated Christmas dishes and gather at a central location to partake in the meal while enjoying each other's company.
She said her first time experiencing it was when she was a teenager, but laughed as she recalled she was initially miserable.
"It was at a time when you did not understand the significance of the family sharing dinner like that. You just know say it was dinner time and yuh want to eat, and somebody nuh come with the dinner, but as you grow you understand the significance of family," she said.
This memory stands out for Blackwood-Meeks as it reminded her of Christmas dinners that were prepared by her mother, Miss Pearl, and her brother, George, who passed away 11 years ago and two years ago, respectively.
"It was just so wonderful when you arrived at 9 a.m. and you have food to eat. You just eating through the day. We still do it and it's just that experience of feeding each other that stands out to me," she said, adding that she loved journeying from her home in Kingston to Mandeville to meet up with relatives. "It's just the fun of the whole thing because we know we going eat and chat and laugh."
But Blackwood-Meeks said she often pauses to reflect on those persons who may not be able to enjoy a Christmas dinner. She said Christmas is tainted by sadness as she remembers a story of two persons who were fighting over a slice of Christmas cake, one of them being stabbed and killed.
"The thought of people fighting over food has just lived with me and I'm always conscious of people who don't have, but that consciousness is heightened because of commercialisation telling you that you must have. But if you don't have it, you must feel a way, and I'm very conscious of that," she said.
For Blackwood-Meeks, who strives for the retention of Jamaican folklore, the Christmas spirit still exists. She said children are still fascinated with Christmas lights and trees and certainly the exchange and giving of Christmas gifts.
"There was a body lotion called Lander, and we used to get a big bottle of lotion, like Miss Pearl nuh plan fi buy nuh more fi the year 'til Christmas come. That practical nature of Christmas is still there and the smell of Christmas baking and the house a clean. People a whitewash the sidewalks," she added with a laugh.
Blackwood-Meeks urges Jamaicans to still be thankful for life and family despite the pandemic. She told THE STAR that her duty as a storyteller during the COVID-affected Yuletide season is to give hope, and to guard against cynicism.
"Now is the time we going wish that we could go home to our family and siddung and laugh and chat 'til a morning. We going wish we had Grand Market and I think about the people in Brown's Town who pride themselves in having the greatest Grand Market. What we going do now? Just like that the culture changes," Blackwood-Meeks said.
While she is unsure of family celebrations this year, she is content with celebrating Christmas in its new form. "From we have life, just celebrate that with whatever little or much you have."