Listed below are the names of trees that bloom only during the Christmas season in Barbados:
The Christmas Candle Tree
The Christmas Palm
Snow on the Mountain
Therefore, it is only fitting that we refer to them as the Barbados Christmas Trees.
The Christmas Candle Tree (Cassia Alata)
This shot was taken from a roadside garden at Heywoods, St. Peter. I was mesmerized by its beauty. In addition to this stunning picture I share with you the myth that dogs this alluring shrub. Now here is this urban myth as to why the Barbados Candle tree blooms only during the Christmas season as told by Grandma Vallie.
Grandma Vallie was of mixed race. In the village where folks see different shades of the skin depending on the density or fairness and their informal grading scale is the way they describe the person who is not the shade of tar. Grandma Vallie was in no way a black sand but not quite a mulatto; more like an Oreo but definitely a quarter-caste in the grading skin scale. She was the village story teller for those children she kept while their parents went off to work in the fields. Her 'holding back the kids' was done for gratis an arrangement that was the norm of her day. Of course, Grandma Vallie loved to be in the company of those young ones and no amount of money could bring the pleasure she got from being the centre-piece for these young ones; that was the impression one got from reading the lips of folks who spoke fondly of her.
Grandma Vallie would assign chores for those kids to do according to their age range. Such chores ranged from helping feed the yard fowls, searching and retrieving eggs the fowls laid under the cellar, sweeping the yard with bush brooms, fetching water from the public standpipe to filled the monkey and a large metal barrel she kept near the kitchen door. This was her method of keeping her supply of water for cooking, bathing and washing for the day. At night the water barrel was cleaned in readiness for the next day's replenishment of water.
Vallie was the shorten form of her name, Valeria. At the back of her outdoor toilet was the usual site for all kinds of wild trees, and shrubs and bush. Chief among them were the clamacherry tree (kids would squeeze the cherries from this tree to clue the torn pages in their books)
Branch off the Clamacherry Tree
Clamacherry berry squeezed for its glue
Glue spilled on paper. This glue quite messy but extremely effective as an adhesive substance
and the tamarind tree. The kids loved the tamarind balls she made for them from the pods of this tree. As I grew older I realized that such backyard bush served as the natural borders that separated each chattel house family as well as great green walls for the privacy of neighbours. More often than not, the outdoor johnnies were used for the solids we called No. 2 and the No. 1, the liquid would rain down on these backyard vegetation, lol.
Suzie was excused to go in to the backyard to deliver No. 1 which she said was urgent. Grandma Vallie had just finished telling the story as to why the black horse used by Mr. O'Malley on his dray to haul canes to the cane-mill has a white star-shape birth mark on its forehead. Two minutes later Suzie dashed back into the house and pleaded with Grandma Vallie and the rest of the children to come outside with her to see what she had never seen before at the back of the johnny. The green bush at the back of the johnny was swamped with yellow flowers as straight as cane arrows. The ugliness of the backyard was turned into instant beauty.
When Grandma Vallie and the rest of the kids got to the backyard scene, there was a great smile on her face when she uttered these words: Look children, that bush you see is called the candle bush. No one ever plants that bush it hides itself among the other trees and bush by remaining green throughout the year wherever it grows. Then it gives off its Christmas surprise. It is the warning bell that Christmas time is in the air. It only shows those candle-like blooms during the Christmas season. Now kids, would you like to hear the story as to why this Christmas Candle tree behaves the way it does? In unison, the kids responded, "Yes Grandma Vallie. Do tell us." Those kids gathered around Grandma Vallie's knees to hear her tell the story.
Long, long time ago in Bimshire the captain and crew of an English trading shape landed and claimed possession of the island on behalf of James 1, King of England and James V1 of Scotland. Years later the island was colonized in the name of Charles 1 by the Governor, Charles Wolferstone, as the representative of the Earl of Carlisle. The main land-owners were appointed by the Governor to help him in the government of the island. Sixteen land-owners were selected and constituted the House of Burgesses. These land-owners ruled with an iron hand when the island was divided into five zones: Flatlands, Uplands, Terraces and Cliffs, Valley, Dome.
Millie was a pretty mulatto girl. She was the house servant for the Rockfields. Mr. Sid Rockfield a land-owner and his wife, Mrs. Mira Rockfield lived in Flatlands Manor near the cane-mill. The Rockfield's household was busy as bees getting the manor ready for the Christmas Season. Millie was cleaning and polishing figurines. She was captivated by a special figurine of a lady holding a tiny green tray and on it were yellow candles that glowed in the dark. She wished she had such beautiful things. Not wanting to be selfish, she rephrased her thoughts and wished for such beautiful things for all the folks in the village. Her Christmas wish was for a tree with yellow candle-shaped flowers that would bloom during the Christmas season but only in desolate or ugly places in every village. Then suddenly, the figurine fell from her hands and crashed into several pieces on the floor. She was really sad and was afraid of what will happen to her when Mrs. Mira finds out.
Millie was falsely accused for the willful damage of the Rockfields' property and sentenced to ten months in solitary confinement. She knew that upon her release she could no longer work as a house servant but would have to work the fields. She thought to herself that it wasn't all that bad working among growing things for they were not judgemental. However, she wished there could be a tree that would bear yellow candle-like flowers every year but only during the Christmas Season. "Oh well!" She said then closed her eyes and went to sleep. She had this dream. In her dream, a lady appeared with yellow candles all around her feet. She reached out her hand to Millie a piece of paper neatly folded and told her to read what was inside. The note was in the form of instructions for her to follow. It read: On the day of your release, which is on December 13 go not to your home in the village but take the winding road to Mt. Gilboa. Nothing more was said in the note. When she awoke from her sleep, she said to herself, it's only a dream, but a small voice in her head said, what is there to lose, I'll go just for the fun and beside I'll tell no one why I must go to Mt. Gilboa . Don't want them forming any silly notions in their heads.
Millie was released on the day the six divisions of the island was renamed. This meant that the Flatlands became St. Lucy and the other divisions were named respectively, St. Peter, St. James, St. Michael, St. Andrew, St. John, St. Philip, St. George, St' Thomas, St. Joseph and the Dome renamed Christ Church. The renaming of the various division across the island was the cause for the jubilation. Millie was tempted to ignore the dream and go straight to her village and join in the celebrations from the side line. But a voice in her head kept reminding her to go to Mt. Gilboa. She obeyed the voice in her head.
The many turns and cross country walk she had done in order to reach Mt. Gilboa caused her to see that familiar road signs had been removed for the new ones. Millie noticed that the Flatlands sign was replaced with St. Lucy. Then she remembered the lady in her dream with the yellow candles. And she saw the symbolism there and then; the meaning of the dream was unravelling for her . When Millie reached Mt. Gilboa , its base was not arid as was expected but instead was covered with lush vegetation and with a remarkable shrub that stood out from the rest. It had deep green leaves the size of a man's hand and on the stems candle-like inflorescences that stood erect on the branch tips. The lady in the dream, many folks believed it was Saint Lucy with the candles in Millie's dream and she was instrumental in giving Millie her wish. So, since that day and every year this unique candle tree has been blooming in Barbados only during the Christmas Season. Click on this link to read the christmas candle tree poem.
The Christmas Palm
Bajan gardens are some of the prettiest I have seen in the Caribbean. Those folks take pride in their garden designs. They purposefully mix plants that bloom only at Christmas with those that bloom all year. The Christmas Palm is one of the four plants that produces festive colours on their blooms. I have seen tiny outdoor lights placed on the trunk and crown of the Christmas Palm. This tropical Christmas tree with lights on it is magnificent to see at night. Oh! I do adore living Christmas trees. We need plants and trees. Keep them growing. To read the christmas palm poem click on this link.
Snow on the Mountain Tree
Click on this link to read the snow on the mountain poem.
Click on this link to read the poinsettia poem.
© Paterika Hengreaves