'If you don't have apples and grapes, you can't enjoy Christmas'

Trinidad: Exotic apples and 'Christmas styling'


Christmas for Vincent Dobson as a child in Port of Spain, Trinidad, meant home-baked bread, boiled sweet ham, and "black cake" made with rum and dried fruits, followed by "music all weekend."

"And if you don't have apples and grapes, you can't enjoy Christmas," Dobson said. Apples were exotic because they didn't grow in Trinidad. "Mangoes, oranges, grapefruit, you can get all year round."

The music he called "Christmas styling," his voice rich with a Trinidad lilt he hasn't lost in 20 years in Iqaluit, plus as many in Montreal.

It meant carols and songs played with a calypso beat on the steel pan, guitar, cuatro (a small, four-string guitar) and any other instrument you could find – including your mother's pot cover or a grater.

Dobson, also known as "Bugsy," originally came to Iqaluit to fix cars, drove a taxi for years, and now works at the Oqota Men's Shelter.

Preparations for a Trinidad Christmas began months before, when "all the nick-nacks and pictures came off the walls, and people painted the house," he said.

They cut a small deciduous bush with lots of branches, stripped off the leaves, painted it white or silver, and decorated it with cotton balls for snow.

Christmas was all about family getting together, he said.

Midnight mass on Christmas eve at the local Roman Catholic church would kick it off, then more than 30 relations would gather in his mother's Port of Spain home for days of eating, drinking and making merry.

Christmas morning, after opening their stockings, Dobson and his cousins would run around the house "playing stick-em-up. Everybody got a water gun, or a caps gun," he recalled.

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