|‘The Bahamas and Bethlehem’|
Guardian Managing Editor
Published: Dec 22, 2012
Often it feels as if the true meaning of Christmas has long been lost among the commercialization that dominates this very special season.
But this season a new book by Dr. Reg Eldon, “The Bahamas and Bethlehem: Stories, Readings and Prayers for Christmas”, serves as a welcome reminder of Christmases past, when family and community were at the center of holiday celebrations and people enjoyed the more simple pleasures of life.
The stories are made up of a charming look back at Eldon’s childhood and his Christmas memories growing up in the quaint Family Island settlement of Current, Eleuthera.
The memories he always held close to his heart, but after years of putting it off, Eldon said he decided to put pen to paper and record those memories. The move also represents the all-important process of recording family history and community.
“I thought, I wanted to write the stories of Current, where I grew up as a child, and talk about the unique, peculiar things that would happen there,” Eldon told Arts&Culture.
“I wanted to write this stuff down, about how community spirit worked and how we made our own Christmas.”
The stories represent a delightful collection of memories that capture a time before everything was just a mouse click away.
Back then, Christmas preparations started long before December. Everything – hams, turkeys, wrapping paper, bows, gifts, Christmas trees, lights, ornaments — everything had to be brought in by mailboat. And the captain and crew also took orders for Christmas goodies from Nassau, making sure that everyone in the community had exactly what they wanted.
“We would have to order all our Christmas gifts. We couldn’t buy anything in Current, and it was a ritual,” Eldon recalled. “If the (Eaton) catalogues didn’t come by August or September we were then getting very upset. In my family, it was my mother, grandmother and aunt who would oversee what got ordered. Every family must have had one. We would have the unique privilege of looking through the catalog and selecting three of four things, but we never knew exactly which one we would get.
“The whole procedure, in terms of getting the order in, getting it over to the post office then waiting for the mailbags to come on ‘The Ego’ , the mailboat, was such a ritual.”
Eldon said that in those days, ‘The Ego’, captained by his grandfather, docked in Current every Friday.
“We would be so excited to see how big the parcel bags were. They had these old, grey/brown bags. Then my uncle would roll down his rusty wheel barrel to the dock, my grandfather would bring the bags along and put them in the wheel barrel and take them up to the post office,” Eldon remembered.
It was then that the people of Current waited patiently on the steps of the post office (which also housed the library, telecoms and clinic) for their names to be called.
“It was such a ritual.,” said Eldon. “If your slip came you would run over and go and get it. Then we would just have to wait until Christmas morning.”
There’s the story of “The Blue Piano”, one of Eldon’s first “big” Christmas gifts that he could remember. Then there’s “Pick of Gift”, which tells the story of how the much revered, the late Sir Alvin Braynen, the then representative of North Eleuthera, would provide gifts for children of the settlement.
And the very serious production of preparing the “Sunday School Bags”, a mix of treats and goodies, and prunes.
Eldon’s memories also center heavily on food, “The Smell of Apples – The Beauty of Tangerines” and “Scents, Sights and Smell”, and, not surprisingly, the church.
Eldon has had a long a distinguished career in the Methodist church. He was the first general secretary with the new Bahamas Conference of the Methodist Church (BCMC) and currently coordinates the training programs for the BCMC with the Centre for Leadership, Education and Training (C-LET).
“We worked from September to get ready for the Christmas program. Every child in Current would practice for months,” he said.
There were also the rites of passage, the Christmas Ringplay (only residents over 18 were allowed to participate) and the men of the settlement playing marbles.
The second half of the book consists of a mix of serious and lighthearted reflections on Christmas in The Bahamas today and yesterday.
Eldon said it was about year ago that he started the outline for the book while on a plane, after years of putting it off. The book was finally finished at the end of November, just in time for the holidays.
Not only is the book a collection of his childhood memories, it pays homage to his mother, Ruth Eldon, and his aunt, Rhoda Symonette.
“They were the two people who made me who I am, and instilled the values in me about service and hospitality, caring for people and community spirit,” said Eldon.
“My mother taught me that whatever we had could be shared. There was never a case where you could have so much and other people couldn’t have anything at all,” he said.
“Aunt Rhoda never got married, had no children of her own and she took care of her parents. She was the one person who I think inspired me about Christmas.
“She loved Christmas and loved children.”
Eldon said this showed in his aunt’s careful attention to buying Christmas gifts for the children of Current, and picking out the perfect Christmas cards for family and friends.
Eldon said he plans to write down more of his memories and hopes that others will do the same, and find a way to give back to the communities that raised them.
“There was such a spirit of community back then,” said Eldon. “We’ve lost that sense of community.”
“The Bahamas and Bethlehem” is available at The Christian Bookshop, Logos Bookstore and The Bahamas Methodist Conference office.