I met you here,
children in shepherd costumes
silver angel wings worn,
shining under fluorescent lights,
↓as poems are sung or read out loud.
I met you here,
my first stage;
Joseph walking donkey
with moody Mary
holding a dolly under her dress.
Snickers from the gentle crowd
as black girl makes white baby.
I met you here, and elders
recite the poems learned
to ears, decades younger
and laugh as they tell of
I’ve left you,
but your stage still calls,
as darkness lengthens
and the cold comes in.
And now as carols whisper
in my ears
↓heaven hums ‘peace and goodwill’
I am waiting,
to bring my children to the place,
where my first love of Christmas
Being a member of the Tobago Writer’s Guild has many perks, one of which is our monthly creative activities.
Participants are often challenged to create pieces of whatever form, prose, speech band, spoken word, poem and share it. The objective is simple: give writers space to write, to share, to let their voices be heard in a safe space.
The facilitators often choose their stimuli based on their present experiences. One former nurse gave us the word “grief” as we came out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Another gave us the word “solitude” as the noise of the normal was drowning the peace that we were forced to have during the pandemic.
In our meeting in October, the word was “Christmas.” Ten minutes later, we were asked to share words in whatever literary piece that was sparked by this stimulus.
For some, the word “traditions” arose and they reflected on the unique Tobagonian foods and activities they would engage in.
I listened quietly as I’m from Dragon’s Mouth, somewhere in the Bocas; not a Trini or Bago but an amalgamation.
The piece above rose from my subconsciousness, found life in the small phone screen and was sent with a red ribbon and bow to the ears of the listeners over Google Meet. I wrote this piece as my Christmas tradition is consumed in the annual Christmas programmes that happen at my home church. I grew up in a Wesleyan Holiness church and attended an Anglican primary school in Tobago, so Christmas was always synonymous with music and drama.
My father was the choir director, and he had the (extremely) ambitious belief that his members could sing excerpts from Handel’s “Messiah.”
The church learned the four parts for the majority of Christmas songs and up to last year, we sang, “O come, O come Emmanuel” a capella on Christmas mornings.
My mother was the Christmas programme director and she did the drama. I am still getting scared remembering the time she made close to one hundred foil angels to hang up in church.
Our dining table was covered with pink and blue pieces of cardboard and rolls of foil paper, as she covered them individually.
I am grateful that social media didn’t exist when I was younger, for I distinctly remember the only time I ever took part in my primary school’s Christmas programme. It was the year after my father attempted Handel. I was in every choir rehearsal (we lived behind the church and there was no Netflix) and I was learning the tenor for all the songs.
So the following year, yuh boy was singing in the school assembly to the top of his voice, finding the tenor for every song we sang in our morning assemblies.
So when it was time for casting for the production, I obviously caught the attention of the Principal, Miss George, and was given a singing role. I was elated and took to learning the song. It was in the key of dog, as it was clearly written for spaded boy children. I didn’t mind, I screeched at home until my voice surrendered. I was excited until they sent the costume designs home.
It was a white shirt and green tights. Tights. Like, long, Robin Hood tights.
I wanted to “back out” but this was sent two weeks before the show and the programme was already set. My mother insisted on getting the right size, as she was into drama.
It was “tight” and it was not right. Wearing tights in public eclipsed any stage fright I could have had from singing in front of a large crowd. However, in those days, Choice was a brand of corned beef and we didn’t eat that often.
My misery had company, as the boy I was sharing the stage with also had to wear tights as well. When we came on stage, there was a quiet roar of laughter, which our teachers quickly dispelled with threatening stares to both parent and child—“This is serious business! Smile and shut up or else!”
We didn’t need their laughter to tell us how ridiculous we looked. My companion, whose voice was angelic in rehearsals, shook like the earthquake that mashed up the library in Tobago. I was soaked with sweat by the time my verse came around and my voice bubbled like I was boiling rice.
The audience politely clapped when we were done and, thankfully, it was never spoken of after.
Despite the scars, being part of a Christmas production in Tobago is one of the best parts of Christmas for me.
Whether playing the shepherd’s sheep or Mary’s donkey, saying poems or ringing bells, we can all find a place in the Christmas Charade. This is a time of celebration in song, music, dance and drama, reflecting on the gift of Christ to the world. And I am all for it, once I don’t have to wear tights.
Garnet Lawrence is the Secretary of the Tobago
Writer’s Guild. If you would
like to contact the Tobago Writers Guild, they can be reached via email email@example.com and/or via phone at +1(868)620-5799