Christmas, Boxing Day (December 26th), and New Year’s Day are all public holidays in Guyana, forming what amounts to a “holiday week” on the calendar.
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Interestingly, not only Christians but many of the nation’s Muslim and Hindu populations as well decorate their homes for Christmas.
In Guyana, Christians will typically attend a special Christmas service either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, and they will often make “Christmas resolutions” to “let Christ be born anew in their hearts,” in the sense of taking on a more Christ-like character and lifestyle.
Additionally, Guyanese will meticulously clean out their houses to symbolise “making their homes ready for the Christ Child.” As early as mid-November, they will often buy or make new curtains and linens. Otherwise, they will at least thoroughly clean the ones they have. Furniture will be re-polished to make it look new again, and the whole house will be prepared as if a very special guest were about to visit.
Food is another central part of a Guyanese Christmas. Traditional dishes hail from as many lands as do Guyanese themselves. Garlic pork is thought to be the invention of immigrants from the Portuguese islands of Madeira. It is a simple but tasty dish, consisting of pork marinated in garlic, vinegar, and spices and then fried to perfection. Pepperpot, developed by Guyanese Native Americans, is a combo meat dish made of pork and beef, which is seasoned with cassava root extract. Both of these dishes are eaten with fresh-baked bread, and on Christmas morning, it is traditional to eat a ham sandwich, “sauced” with mustard or Worcestershire sauce, with that same fresh-baked bread.
Other elements of Guyanese Christmas cuisine include: “black cake,” which is made black by the rum-soaked prunes and raisins it contains, black pudding, cherry cake, “souse,” a kind of pickled head cheese of European origin, ginger beer, and jamoon-fruit wine.
Another notable feature of a Guyanese Christmas is the street processions and accompanying music and dancing. On Christmas Day, many Guyanese villages have bands equipped with steel drums and masquerade outfits march down the streets. The band members dance, and the crowds follow them and do likewise. Sometimes, however, a band member will stop off at the home of a friend to get a short rest and refreshments, consisting of a bit of rum and bite of ham or cheese.
Those visiting Guyana at Christmas time may want to include any of the following activities on their “to-do” list:
- Go Christmas shopping, especially in Georgetown, Guyana’s capital and largest city. There are many stores and sales, so you may want to plan ahead by checking newspapers for the best deals. High-end jewellery, high-fashion apparel and accessories, tie-dyed or batik-dyed shirts, and hand-painted crafts are among the most commonly bought souvenirs.
- While in Georgetown, be sure to appreciate the carollers and to watch the Christmas Day procession. The masquerading characters will include “Mother Sally,” who walks on stilts while wearing a long dress and a straw hat, and “Mad Bulls,” which are cow-costumed band members who charge at children they see in the crowd. Kids jump out of the way and find the mad bull charge a lot of fun.
- On December 26th, Boxing Day, attend the street fair that is meant to give a hearty welcome to all the Christmas tourists. If still in the country for New Year’s Day, you may want to attend any of the numerous “dancing the old year away” events at hotels, private homes, and other locations.
- While in Guyana, take the time to tour its amazing natural habitats. You can swim, fish, hunt, hike, trek, or go bird watching in the remote interior jungles. You can take a riverboat or fly a small plane to get a panoramic view of the mountains, forests, winding rivers, and tumbling waterfalls.