We had a huge casurina branch with paper decorations on it. These people clearly have either no soul or scads of dosh.
Christmas church attendance was compulsory - even the year we moved to Barbados. We lived on the wild and beautiful East Coast where everyone knew everyone else and nobody ever locked their doors. We were invited to the Christmas morning service, and walked along the winding road to the church in the hot sun, feeling most un-Christmassy and grumpy that our stockings were only half-opened. We were joined on the way by the rest of the village, dressed to the absolute nines. My father, in his khaki safari shirt and shorts, looked seriously underdressed; the men wore three-piece black suits and dazzling white shirts - they all wore ties and hats. But they were merely the backdrop to the magnificent starched ruffle of colour that was the women. Bajan women tend to be large and they love, love, love to laugh. They swept us three blondies up, weeping hysterically at the paucity of our plain cotton frocks and my poor brother's ironed shorts. Their kids were properly dressed; ice-cream coloured dresses held aloft by multi-layered petticoats, white socks and shoes that shone like stars. And the ladies' hats! Great cartwheels studded with garlands and gardens of silk flowers and all of them wearing gloves and carrying enormous shiny handbags.
Hitherto, we were relatively dour Church of England; our experience of church was Easter, Brownie Parade and Remembrance Sunday, with a polite Carol service at Christmas - subdued mutterings of unintelligible, very short prayers, a couple of familiar hymns and then out into the graveyard to shake hands limply with a morose vicar.
Blimey, we didn't know what had hit us, December 25th 1977. Ushered to front-row seats, as befitted newcomers and a teacher, we were bang in front of the choir. My mother fixed us with a gimlet eye and we looked sternly down as they began to sing. They sang gospel songs, urging us to get up and feel the Lord's spirit enter us. My Dad, eyeballs heavenwards, got up first, and clapped along awkwardly, my mother gamely joining him and for once, not even attempting the descant. The vicar shrieked and made lots of reference to Satan, bellowing at us to cast out our sins. We sat like stone mice as all around us, the congregation let the Lord, noisily and with a completely foreign display of emotion, right into their hearts. Every so often, and for no discernable reason, someone would yell 'AaaaaayMEN!' and everyone would join in with gusto.
At last, everyone got up again, still swaying their hips and clapping wildly. We kids shot to our feet and joined the throng for the door, minds on our half-ravaged stockings. As we emerged into the sun, we became aware that the choir was behind us, still belting out the hymns, and they had been joined by steel drums. It was a parade. We danced and sang all round the village for a good half-hour before my parents eventually, as we passed our door, thanked everyone and wished them a Happy Christmas before plucking us skipping children, who by now were punch-drunk on calypso and evangelism, out of the rainbow throng and into our house.
We stood in the gloom, shell-shocked for a minute. Then we threw open a shutter and sat watching this flock of musical birds wind their exhuberant way back up the hill through the breadfruit trees on the other side of the valley. Our stockings lay half-opened on our beds for quite a while. AaaayMEN.