The reason for the season

The reason for the season


Saturday, July 25, 2015

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Enjoyed the joke when someone shouted at the end of the Jamaica-USA football match on Wednesday, "Yes, public holiday come again!" The fan was, of course, referring to one of the most famous public holidays ever declared in Jamaica; what is remembered as the "P J Patterson call it" holiday when we qualified for the World Cup in 1998. It seemed then to be the right thing to do, until the declaration took on a political and economic twist, as the People's National Party (PNP) sided with it, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) swiped against it, and struggling businessmen -- who were forced to close shop in the middle of the week -- bemoaned it.

It was the most controversial holiday ever called in Jamaica, regrettably so as we were all celebrating the moment and enjoying the unity and euphoria as one nation waving high the black, green and gold.

The prime minister thought he was doing the right thing and I believe was quite unprepared for the backlash that has lasted to this day, because the joke in the room on Wednesday evening fell flat. Bets are on that our present prime minister won't fall into that trap and 'call it' this time if we win the Gold Cup, as any wrong move could tip the next party poll in the wrong direction for her.

Some are hoping that she will indeed dare to 'call it', like Andrew did in 2011, but don't hold your breath. We already have too many holidays and, with a double whammy facing us come August 1 and August 6, she would be best advised to hold the phone. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my holidays as much as the next person, but I regret the confusion in some years when the two August holidays are mixed up with each other or fall in the middle of the week.

As Emancipation and Independence days approach, there is still some mystery about what we are celebrating and when we should be celebrating it. Only in Jamaica. Two holidays five days apart. Emancipation Day falls on a Saturday this year, which seems to me to be a grand waste of a normal weekend break from work. It just doesn't generate the atmosphere that goes with a public holiday. Gas stations are busy, traffic flows as per usual, and you get the feeling that people are all dressed up with nowhere to go.

The following week we are set to celebrate Independence Day on a Thursday, midweek, and then its back to work on Friday without the benefit of a long summer weekend including Monday. We already have double holidays on our calendar. But Christmas and Boxing Day are back to back, while Good Friday and Easter Monday fit easily into a weekend package. Why on earth couldn't they have combined Emancipation Day and Independence Day into one glorious long weekend, as used to be the case, and call it Emancipendence weekend as some wiser heads have suggested?

Let's go back a bit in history. For those who came in late, Emancipation Day marks the anniversary of our emancipation from slavery on August 1, 1834. For years this remarkable day was celebrated with outings, cricket matches, curried goat, beach trips, picnics, and traditional village festivities.

In 1962, when we attained Independence (August 6), it was decided then to declare the first Monday in August as a public holiday to accommodate the Emancipation and Independence sentiments in one long weekend of joint celebration.

However, with Emancipation itself taking a back seat over a period of time, the Government of the day called for a review of the calendar in 1966 and accepted a recommendation from the National Symbols Committee headed by Professor Rex Nettleford to re-instate August 1 as Emancipation Day and celebrate Independence Day on its official date, August 6. Hence the conundrum.

As in all things Jamaican, the motion was not without controversy and inspired a robust debate in Gordon House. However, Prime Minister P J Patterson, from those days the maker of holidays, remained unmoved and decided to hold on to his Symbols Committee's recommendation. Of course, there were political undertones at play here. The PNP were now to be seen as the party that rescued and restored Emancipation Day, while the JLP -- under whose watch the Independence Week had flourished -- had their serious reservations, but thought it best to keep quiet in the face of popular support for the change.

But can a poor country like Jamaica afford to lose valuable production time with these two holidays scattered all over the week. In 1997, Cement Company reported a dip in production which it attributed to previously unscheduled holidays, the new Emancipation Day just introduced, an election day that year, and guess what, that famous holiday called in honour of the Reggae Boyz World Cup qualification.

I share Barbara Gloudon's concern over the "kiss teet" response to the idea of celebrating Emancipation Day by those who are abysmally ignorant of the history and reason for a national observance on that day. Public holidays are created as religious landmarks or by State edict. Our Christian background has given us Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and Easter, four powerful and significant observations and celebrations of epochal moments in the history of the Church.

From the secular world, we have been given Boxing, Emancipation, Independence, Labour, and Heroes days. But the worldly holidays have crept upon and desecrated the religious holidays with a kind of wanton behaviour unbecoming of the initial reasons for setting aside the holy days. As far as most are concerned, holidays, like Sundays, are for sports and dancehall and parties supreme, with nary a thought given as to why we ask the nation just to pause and observe.

The 1966 argument is that the two August holidays are important enough to stand by themselves. Well, here is a further thought. Celebrate Emancipation Day on the first Sunday of August as a national, religious, thanksgiving day. Then use the following day, the Monday, as a celebration day for both events, Emancipation and Independence, and give us back our long weekend in the middle of the summer holidays.

Denbigh is lucky this year. According to the run of the calendar they have been able to maintain their three day special as August 1 gives them the opportunity to stage the show Friday to Sunday. Since 1962 it had become a three-day event climaxing on the first Monday of August, coinciding with Independence Day. But since the changes made in 1996, the organisers have had to contend with occasionally losing the public holiday flavour whenever the public holidays fall in the middle of the week.

Quite a long way from 1953, when the first all-island agricultural show, known then as the Middlesex County Agricultural Fair, was staged on Saturday, August 1, and Monday, August 3. Why no show on the intervening August 2? In those days no public activity beyond going to church was encouraged on a Sunday. Incidentally, because of the Sunday falling as it did between the two big days, a strong call was made in 1954 for the Jamaica Agricultural Society to hold an Annual National Thanksgiving Church Service for farmers at the show grounds on the Sundays, and declare the day Farmers' Thanksgiving Day. This day did not come to pass.

Denbigh was a very special part of my life in my young days. The show was the big highlight of our summer holidays. It shared top ranking with the annual Sunday School outing as the staple items of our back-to-school composition, 'How I spent my summer holidays'.

It was the Fair, the show of all shows, the Big Tent come to town. A day for crowds, family reunions, three-card men, music, Miss Lou, Mass Ran, popcorn, peppermint, chewing gum, mint stick. We eyed the restaurants, paused at the fish pond, watched the parades, stepped carefully through the droppings from the animal holding area, and kept out of the way of the dignitaries as they strode imperiously around the grounds.

Denbigh was where you got the chance, as a country boy, to peep over the barricades and see close up some of the faces that you only saw in The Gleaner: Norman Manley, Bustamante, Rudolph Burke, Percy Broderick Snr, Rose Leon, Tom Girvan, Sir Hugh Foot..

I remember once seeing a black limousine threading its way cautiously through long lines of spectators in 1955. We waved to a pale, thin and scared-looking face in the back seat, none other than Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret.

And, of course, our elders warned us to keep away from the famous Logwood Tree bar, a mecca for farmers from Hanover to St Thomas who still make it a tradition to set up appointments with each other to "meet me under the logwood tree" at Denbigh.

I have my own private and delightful holiday periods in February and March when we celebrate our wedding anniversary, followed by Valentine's Day, and then my wife's birthday. I am at the age where I tend to mix up those days at my peril. But don't worry, I know how to enjoy my holiday celebrations while observing 'the reasons for the seasons'.

Lance Neita is a public and community relations consultant and writer. Send comments to the Observer or to


Only in Jamaica would there be two holidays, five days apart.

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