Nine Mornings before Christmas unique to SVG

Nine Mornings performance at Heritage Square in Kingstown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
SVG National Nine Mornings Committee

Vincentians on Dec. 2 officially began celebrating Nine Mornings, a festival unique to the nation at Christmas time.

“Nine Mornings before Christmas, Vincentians awake in the early hours and part take in a range of activities, among them sea baths, dances (or in local parlance, fetes), bicycle riding and street concerts,” said Michael Peters, chairman of the National Nine Mornings Committee, which, since 1999, began officially organizing the 105-year-festival, about the event’s history.

“In the rural areas, the final morning of the festivity usually ended with a steel band ‘jump-up,’” added Peters, stating that the origins of the festivity are clouded in some mystery.

He said, although the oral tradition relates it to the “novena” of the Catholic Church on the nine days before Christmas, “it is believed that, after the early morning church services of the Catholics, worshippers began walking the streets, while others went for sea baths.

“From this, the popular festivity emerged,” Peters said.

He said, although popular opinion has this practice as starting during the period of slavery, “it was more likely to have been a post-emancipation practice.”

“It is also believed that something around 1913, a Vincentian member of the Dominican Order of the Catholic Church initiated a tradition of celebrating a Christmas novena in the early hours of the morning,” Peters said.

“It was the procession home after the service, as the churchgoers wandered back to their houses, eagerly greeting friends with holiday blessings and peering in the still-shut shop windows, which developed into today’s celebration,” he added.

“Soon it became customary for the ‘boom drum’ bands, composed of musician playing goatskin drums and wooden flutes, to accompany the walkers home,” he continued. “Street dancing, of course, was soon to follow, and, in time, the character of the nine mornings’ celebration changed.”

Over the years, Peters said the number of walkers grew, and, with the advent of the steel drum band, a carnival-style ‘Nine Mornings’ tradition evolved.

He said street vendors joined the celebration, selling drinks made from ginger and sorrel, as well as holiday cakes and sweets.

Peters said a later addition was the tradition of the “carolers”, who went house-to-house singing Christmas carols.

He said Nine Mornings was particularly popular with young people “for whom the normal restrictions at home were relaxed, giving them an opportunity to socialize with friends.”

A welcomed addition in recent years is the “lighting up” of towns, villages, commercial buildings, churches and private homes, Peters said.

He said the organized activities, which are now run by the SVG Nine Mornings Committee, are “relatively new since the traditional practices were totally spontaneous and unorganized.

“This Nine Mornings practice is entirely unique to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and provides an opportunity for Vincentians to boast about something, which is special to them,” he said.

This year’s official lighting-up of Heritage Square, in capital Kingstown, was followed by a candlelight march through the streets of the capital, culminating at Heritage Square.

Lennox Bowman, deputy chair of the National Mornings Committee, said this year had a record turn-out and participation, according to the local Xtreme Radio 104.3 FM.

In his remarks at the event, Bowman said the committee works year-round in planning activities for the Christmas season in bringing Christmas to Vincentians in “true Vincentian style.”

“I want to say that it is the communities which make this thing happen, we are mainly the facilitators,” said Bowman, urging nationals to visit communities that are staging activities during the Nine Mornings, which officially started on Dec. 16 and ends on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24.

“The month of December is an important month for St. Vincent and the Grenadines to shine; and, each and every one of us, we must play our part,” urged Minister of Culture, Cecil “Ces” McKie.

He said that, in 2019, the committee will begin the process in having the festival recognized worldwide as a “world festival,” according to Xtreme FM.

It said the community lighting-up began in Coulls Hill, a village along the western coast of mainland St. Vincent, on Dec. 8.

The National Parks, Beaches and Rivers Authority lit up the Botanical Gardens, considered the oldest in the Western Hemisphere, in Kingstown, on Dec. 15.

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