Christmas spirit: Peace, joy and goodwill to all

It’s Christmas Eve in the Cayman Islands. How things have changed.

We don’t just refer to our journey through the year 2015, which we’ll reflect upon more next week in our news and opinion pages. In this column, we’ll turn our attention to the lengthier trajectory of time arcing over decades, not months, connecting us to Christmases in Cayman’s past.

In years gone by, the hallmarks of a Cayman Christmas included “white sand yards, local Christmas beef, kitchen dances, heavy cakes, handmade gifts, carolers and special church services” — the Compass described those mainstays in an article in our “Christmas Holiday Guide” that was published Thursday, Dec. 10.

Most people who have lived in Cayman for a good amount of time, even if they don’t partake in those activities themselves, are generally aware of the basics. The white sand yards, hauled up from the beach by the basketful, mimicked the appearance of pristine snowfalls in northern climes. The feasts of Christmas beef and pork (punctuated with homemade desserts) were rare events, practically celebrations unto themselves, the painstaking products of time-honored, and time-consuming, culinary techniques, involving garden spices, generationally bequeathed recipes and long hours of slow-cooking.

Church services and activities, of course, were (and for many, still are) the focal point of the season, providing opportunities for people to celebrate the birth of Jesus and to congregate, literally, with one another.

What made Christmas in Cayman even more special, relatively speaking, than other holidays in Cayman, and perhaps even Christmases in other places, is that it was a time of great arrival — not of Santa Claus; but of fathers, uncles and brothers — of local seamen returning from voyages across the globe to their cherished islands and beloved families. Their sentiments of longing for home are so characteristic of traditional Cayman that they are encapsulated in the lyrics of our official national song, “Beloved Isle Cayman.”

The ways in which our country’s forebears marked Christmas Day tells us much about their lifestyle the other 364 days of the year. In brief, it was — materially speaking — disciplined, spartan and oriented around subsistence. Metaphysically speaking, however, there was a richness of connection among the community that has perhaps waned with the accumulation of the country’s monetary wealth.

Remnants of Cayman’s history, more vivid than reflections and more whole than mere fragments, survive with us in our actions of today and will persist into the future, well after our generation is gone. As French novelist Marcel Proust observed, “The past is not fugitive. It stays put.”

The kernels of identity, that made our country “Cayman,” echo in the repetition of customs, in activities that may be performed semi-consciously, or even passively in the names of places. White sand yards may be less ubiquitous than they were before, but they can still be seen in front of traditional homes, such as Miss Lassie’s house in South Sound, and in miniature models and paintings of Cayman-style cottages. Recipes and cooking technology have evolved, but Christmas beef, and all the fixings, remain staples of holiday menus. Although the maritime industry no longer holds the same economic importance it once did, the idea of “homecoming” has been enshrined in the distinct observance of Cayman Thanksgiving. (For an example of the significance of the church as an institution in Cayman, look no further than the name of “Church Street” that runs along the George Town waterfront.)

As we stated at the beginning of this editorial, much, obviously, has changed in the long history of Cayman. But much has remained the same.

Though with the passage of each year, we become more and more bedecked with “things” that help us mark the holiday, Christmas is fundamentally a time when we pause to cherish what really matters, and what really endures: The spirit of Christmas, peace and joy.

From the Compass to you, Merry Christmas, Cayman Islands.