The soft Cayman Christmas breeze, white sand, pink conch shells, heavy cakes and beef simmering in cast iron pots bring back fond memories of an old-time Christmas. From the early to mid-1900s, every home in the neighbourhood would start their holiday preparations months in advance, making sure that their home had the prettiest sand yard, the best food and, hopefully, a new set of clothes for everyone.
You could smell the aroma of apples as they filled the air, signalling Christmas was near. Arlene Hydes fondly recalls that “in them days, when you go in the shop, oh, you could smell these apples before you get to the shop.” Children were delighted to find an apple in their Christmas stocking, as sometimes this was the only time of the year they could enjoy them. Fresh seafood would be cooked, but beef was the local favourite, as it wasn’t eaten very often through the year.
Tables would be laden with freshly baked heavy cakes — still a Christmas staple today — each one made with yams, sweet potato or cassava mixed with coconut milk and spices. Of course, there was lots of hard work to be done as well. Verna Henning warmly remembers, “You would rake up the sand that was in your yard, throw it away, and then you would take your basket and bring back clean, fresh sand from the beach and pile it up in your yard.”
Churches would hold Christmas concerts on different nights so everyone, friends and family, could attend. The concerts would feature the children reciting poems, singing songs or acting out plays. The churches would be filled to bursting. People jammed together on the pews, standing inside and outside, peering intently through open doorways and windows, so they could see the children in their new set of clothes singing at the top of their little voices — oh, the Christmas time of old!
Author: Courtesy of Cayman Islands National Archive