The Christmas season really started earlier this year. Christmas begins in stores and malls, radio stations and newspaper ads long before December. This year, said musical director at Vibe CT 105 FM Kurt William, the station began playing parang and Christmas music from September 21. William said this launch was considerably earlier than last year. “Last year we started kind of late because of the state of emergency. There was a clamp on the Christmas spirit for a while, so we didn’t begin playing parang till much later.”
William said as Christmas draws closer, the radio programmers will reduce the amount of R&B and reggae that is played so that soca and parang will be at the forefront, and on call-in programmes, listeners have already begun to request their parang and soca parang favourites.
This year the National Parang Association (NPATT) launched the parang season at Lopinot Recreation Ground on October 6. In a telephone interview, parrandera Joanne Briggs said, “We start practising from September and as soon as Republic Day hits, it means parang season is right around the corner.”
Briggs said this year her first performance took place in early September and that whether it is competitions or paid performances, the season is a very hectic one for parranderos. The parang season ends on January 6, the day of the Epiphany when the wise men were said to have visited the Christ child.
Dale Lutchman, project co-ordinator at Slam 100.5FM, said the stations begin playing Christmas music in November. Lutchman said, “We take the new age and new world Christmas music, like Justin Bieber and Mariah Carey remakes, as well as the new local Christmas songs by artistes such as Shurwayne Winchester and H20 Phlo. Those songs comprise our rotation in November and then bit by bit we infuse the regular Christmas songs.”
Advertising operations manager of Guardian Media Ltd Jennifer Lijertwood said heavy advertising for the Christmas season usually begins in November. Banks advertise their loan offers while furniture stores advertise their hire-purchase packages.
Sharon Doolam, manager of a small gift shop called Best Wishes in Excellent Stores, Port-of-Spain, said her store begins to bring stocks in from October and that by next week customers could expect to see gift bags, wrapping paper and a variety of gift sets on sale. Asked why such items go on sale so long before December, Doolam said, “A lot of people tend to shop early, basically to cut down their shopping list and to avoid the rush.”
Similarly, the manager of Trendy Kids in Port-of-Spain said between the end of October and early November, new toys and children’s clothes will be on display for Christmas shopping.
Designer and owner of DH Gift Shop Dianne Hunt said at her store the Christmas atmosphere is evident from as early as September. “We start merchandising at the end of August, clearing shelves and getting ready for new stocks to arrive.”
Hunt said all decorations in the stores follow certain themes that could give customers creative ideas on how to decorate their own homes for Christmas. During the season, Christmas songs are played throughout the stores and they offer complimentary gift wrapping for regular customers and has luxury gift sets on sale which may contain anything from champagne to gourmet cookies and chocolates.
Explaining the reason for her store’s early start for the Christmas season, she said, “Life is just moving at a much faster pace. If you wait too late to prepare for Christmas, you don’t get to enjoy the season fully. The energy is chaotic in November and December—the stress, the rush.
“Here at DH Gift Shop, we try to have a really nice Christmas atmosphere.”
One of the store’s branches is in Long Circular Mall, St James, and has already unveiled its Christmas display. The decor is simple and traditional, comprising green garlands with large red ornaments. At Standard on Queen and Henry streets in Port-of-Spain, there is already a noticeable amount of traffic as people walk around taking note of prices. Annelies Denny, chief operations officer, said preparation for the Christmas season begins long in advance.
“We would start placing orders in May or June. July for the latest—and that could be a bit of a risk.” Denny explained that because of the large number of products that must be imported, it is imperative to choose the items to be purchased as early as possible.
On Standard’s advertising strategies to promote its products for Christmas, Denny said, “We’re doing a ‘12 weeks to Christmas’ campaign, which is already being advertised in the newspapers. We will officially launch our Christmas campaign in the next two weeks.”
She also said this Christmas season would be a bit of a challenge, as Divali is set for November 13. “With Divali falling in the middle of November this year, we will then have to launch Christmas before Divali has finished.” Denny said she has noticed a lot of enthusiasm for Christmas this year. “You’re already hearing parang around. The feeling is that people are already thinking about Christmas.” She said the real rush will begin in November.
Manager at Classy Fabrics in Port-of-Spain Ms Moses said that while ads for the store can already be seen in the newspapers, there is not much Christmas shopping yet for curtains, bed sets, towels and other items which the store offers.
“Things are kinda slow right now. Things are slow all over the world because of the economy. But things pick up at the end of October, mid-November.”
Designer and masmaker Brian MacFarlane is contracted each year to design and direct the elaborate Christmas decorations at West Mall in Westmoorings. He said he and his 16-member crew begin work three months before Christmas week.
He explained that the process requires a great deal of work, including the construction of scaffolding to allow his team to mount the large decorative garlands and ornaments which embellish the walkways of the mall. The crew starts work each evening at 8 and finishes at around 5.30 am the next day, before the mall opens.
Though MacFarlane said there is never a particular theme for the decorations, he said they “try to keep everything very traditional—the usual red, green and gold.” The last decorative element which is added to the mall’s interior is an array of over 2,500 red poinsettias, brought in near the end of November so they do not lose their fresh look before the actual week of Christmas. MacFarlane also designs the Christmas decorations for Gulf City Mall in San Fernando and in Tobago.
Asked to offer insight on the exact time frame of the Christmas season, editor of the Catholic News June Johnston said, “As far as the church is concerned, we are in the season of Advent. There are four Sundays in Advent leading up to Christmas, the first of which will be December 2. The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which will take place on January 6, marks the end of the season.”
Johnston said the presence of Christmas gifts and Christmas music in October can be attributed to people’s excitement about the season.
“People are eager to celebrate Christmas—humans love to celebrate—an opportunity to share joy, peace, love and to feel good.”
Johnston also said although the commercialisation of the season has become overdone, “No commercialisation can take away from the heart of what we celebrate on this day.”