On Saturday night, hundreds of people gathered at Christmas on De Castro Street as Janice Stoutt stood on a stage at one end of the event and read her original poem, “Making a Virgin Islands Christmas.”
Afterward, she quizzed children on the poem’s subject matter - the VI of Christmas past.
“What did we do with the salty ham bone?” she asked a girl, who received a Santa hat for her correct response: “Make soup.”
Ms. Stoutt explained that as a poet, actress and playwright, she considers it her job to educate about VI culture year round, and Christmas is no exception.
The annual Christmas on De Castro Street, which took place Friday and Saturday, provided the ideal platform.
“I’m here almost every year,” she said, “but we never had such a programme as this. … Each verse that I recited demonstrated something that happened in Virgin Islands at Christmas.”
That included families dining on mutton on Christmas Day and children receiving toys like tops and jacks.
“Each year we have toys to hand out to the kids,” Ms. Stoutt said. “This year we wanted them to listen and learn something about Virgin Islands culture, and maybe next year if we do it again they will remember something.”
20 years of Christmas
Since the event began as Christmas on Main Street 20 years ago, it has closed down one of the territory’s main roads each year to offer shopping, socialising and engaging with VI culture and the arts. This year, that included a variety of bands, choirs and dance troupes from around the territory.
“Of course this year we are still paying tribute to our founder, [former Fifth District Representative and Deputy Speaker of the House] Delores Christopher, who is deceased,” City Manager Janis Brathwaite said on Saturday.
Functioning without Ms. Christoper, she added, meant “there was a bit more strain on us. … We had a couple of hiccups, but we did not let the hiccups keep us from doing what we needed to do.”
This year, she said, the event drew a record-setting 50 vendors.
“We had exotic food: alligators, lamb shanks. … The food was a little different. There was a variety of people and I must say [Friday] was a big night; tonight is an even bigger night. These two nights were the biggest we have ever seen in the history of Christmas on De Castro Street.”
However, many of the vendors said sales weren’t their only goal.
First-time seller Arona Fahie-Forbes wanted to bring a different type of product to the selection beyond the traditional toys and crafts, focusing on gift baskets full of homegrown coconut oils and flavoured sauces.
“I see it as an opportunity whereby you can get greater exposure. … I said I’ll try it out this year,” she said on Friday. “The territory should be living a
better, healthier lifestyle and my products provide that. … I believe persons are looking for a variety of things and [that I] bring a different aspect to [the event].”
‘Hyped’ about Christmas
Christmas on De Castro capped off a banner year for another vendor, Kevin Jurgen of Imperial ShellCrafters, who uses Anegada conch shells from his business partner to make horns, lamps and jewellery. He has been rebuilding after Hurricane Irma and only returned to the event this year. He has a shop located at Cyril B. Roney Tortola Pier Park, and in February he’ll open in a space at Crafts Alive Village.
“Our goal this year is to share with the locals what we have to offer,” he said. “We want them to know that we’re not just here for tourists in that we have a variety of things for women and even though the theme is ‘marine,’ there’s a lot of unique and beautiful things that can be done with seashells.”
Glen “Blake” Charlton of Carib Gamers, who set up a wall of TV screens and game consoles, wasn’t selling products; he was selling experiences.
“We live at a time where no one really knows each other anymore,” he said. “I’m trying to bring back that personal, face- to-face touch to gaming.”
He added that it was Ms. Christopher herself who gave his business a kickstart when she offered them the chance to set up shop five years ago.
“They call us a daycare,” he said, pointing to the children tapping at controllers. “Parents can leave their kids here and know [they] are in a safe environment with us.”
He said he was surprised that most of this year’s vendors started setting up “at the break of dawn” this year.
“Everybody’s hyped about the Christmas season,” he said.