Value our Cayman traditions

Recently, someone wrote in a local publication that the lack of liquor and live music after midnight on New Year’s Eve is ‘a symbolic victory, with no real substance’ for traditionalists. Thanks to Frances Buchanan for the letter on 20 December reminding us that many people still value symbol and tradition.

Here’s a Caymanian Christmas tradition: yards used to be refreshed with new sand in time for Christmas Eve, when they would be swept until they were smooth as glass. In this modern age of artificial turf, not to mention the severe beach erosion problem, it is understandable that this backbreaking custom has been reduced to only a very few traditionalists. However, whether it replicates a snowy Scottish winter or the earthen yards of West Africa, it was, and is, a vital symbol of our heritage.

Consider a few other symbols:

Take out a one cent coin and study it. Could you identify that bird in the wild? Probably not: it is a thrush but the endemic Grand Cayman Thrush is sadly extinct. It is, nevertheless, an enduring, and, ironically, perhaps the most commonly encountered, symbol of our nation.

One sight that I personally miss, especially in George Town Harbour, is that of the wooden posts that fishermen used to erect and decorate with the tails of fish they caught. It is not that these were particularly beautiful, creative or even hygienic, it was simply that they symbolized someone’s achievements and our country’s seafaring culture. They are gone now. What do our children and tourists see instead?

The Sunday laws are symbols of our Christian heritage. By no means do they magically transform us into Christians or even into good people. It is even argued that they are hypocritical and empty gestures. But they are no longer primarily about religion; they are powerful symbols of our culture.

What is culture? Is it not, in large part, made up of symbols and gestures. The fact that something serves as a symbol does not diminish it; in fact, it usually allows it to transcend the everyday. What are New Year’s celebrations but a collection of traditions or symbols? ‘Auld Lang Syne’, a toast, a kiss, or counting backwards to midnight – what do these really mean? Do they have any real substance? What should our New Year’s centre on?

This year, let us celebrate culture, family and faith. Here are a few ideas. Some of them echo your excellent editorial on 19 December. I think they are all legal and mostly free.

Attend Watchnight Service at a nearby church: there are many to choose from, everyone is welcome and some will even provide transportation.
Walk on the beach or go on a quiet cruise and gaze at the moon and stars.
Spend New Year’s at home with your family: need I say more?
Why not have a totally alcohol-free evening and donate the money you save to an organization that battles substance abuse (like CASA) or bad driving (like MattSafe)?
Think about some of your resolutions, like getting enough sleep, rising early, spending time with your family or going to church. Why put it off for even a day?
Spend the evening with someone who cannot go out partying, like an elderly neighbour, or a special needs child. Or spend time with someone who works or volunteers as a caregiver – even take their place while they go out. After all, they should be back shortly after midnight.
At midnight, put down your glass, cut off the music and consider the way that people in the Southwest Pacific spent last New Year’s. Is yours already better than theirs was, despite the early shut down?

When I travel to, or read about, other countries I love to learn about their traditions and their idiosyncrasies. If others want to mock ours, I certainly will not be letting it bother me.

Amber Bothwell

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