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Christmas and Happy New Year in the Liberian Tradition

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Unlike the Santa Claus or Old St. Nicholas of Western society, the Liberian Santa Claus and Old Man Beggar do not bring presents to children on Christmas eve; instead, they use their gifts and talents to bring joy and happiness to the people through entertainment for which they are rewarded — paid. This is an art form that produces its own unique music, dance and songs. Songs such as “Merry Christmas, We Are at Your Door”, “We Are, We Are, Santa Claus We Are”; “Old Man Beggar, join the Beggar”;  “Zamgba Die Kpelle People Put On Shoes”; “Monrovia Young Girl Stop Drinking Lysol, If You Want To Live Long, Stop Drinking Lysol”; “Ah Yea, Ah Yea, Sarah Rascal, You Eat My Money, You Say You Don’t Want Me”, and “Duugbomaa Saonyonkpenge” are among the popular songs the people were once entertained with.

There is a Speaker whose task it is to grace the occasion; and Old Man Beggar performed a special dance called, “Hot, Hot Water, Klegbutu,” which the women like for Old Man Beggar to perform.

Old Man Beggar is always dressed in raggedy clothes. Also, he had a big pot (beer) belly, while Santa Claus is usually dressed in the latest fashion. Santa Claus has names like “YGC” (Young Girl Chaser) and “SND” (Sea Never Dry).

At one time, this writer danced as YGC, while Lott Carey Mooney and Yango Gibson who later sang and played guitar for the popular “Shade Band” were part of our group; Lott Carey sang and Yango  played the guitar and Saw.

Whenever two Santa Clauses met, they would compete to determine who the best performer was. Both Santa Claus and Old Man Beggar provided a unique entertainment for parents, as well as their children during the holiday season. This form of entertainment is something the people looked forward to every year. The organizers were from the poor and working class neighborhoods.

The Speaker is an important character to this unique celebration. In a call and response fashion, he began the celebration with an introduction of Old Man Beggar in this manner:
“Toodayyy, time deliver one, one dayyy”. And in response, the audience will say – “ah yea”. The Speaker will continue: “I wonder why, poor Monrovia gone – on, on.” (Audience will respond) “ah yeaaa”. The Speaker will then begin his speech (usually dressed in coat and tie with a ledger/writing pad in his left hand):

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Women and Men, Boys and Girls, Old People and Young People, on behalf this poor, old, unfortunate man, I bring you season greetings from the most highest, omnipotent person in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Savior, Redeemer, Ruler and Prince of Peace.

“My encounter with Dr. Mr. Old Man Beggar (pointing to him) began the 1st day of December. Early that morning, the woman I was staying with, Ma Sarah, sent me on the beach to buy fish to cook ‘Pepper Soup’ for Papa, her husband who was home sick with fresh cold; there I met this ‘big hellever’ man with big pot belly (pointing to his stomach), dressed in raggedy clothes lying on the beach. At first, I thought he was dead.  I was so scare, I was about run when he said to me, ‘Young man, don’t be afraid, I am a harmless old and hungry man, I need your assistance. Please help me! Can’t you see the way I look? Come closer for me to tell you my misfortune.’”

I went closer to him, that’s when he told me the whole story about his ordeal, which begun like this: “Young man, don’t let my looks fool you! I am no small potato; I am an important person who was returning home after many, many years of study abroad – America, England, France, Russia, Germany, Japan and China, where I earned my GED, BSc, MA, Ph.D., M.D., D.D.D., KGB, FBI, AT&T, CBS, ABC, NBC, NBA, NFL, MTV in dancecology, musicology, lyricology, sportscology, newscology, communicationcology, philosophy, science, and ethics. While returning, we met up with a terrible storm that wrecked our ship; and all my belongings, food, clothes, certificates, diplomas, degrees, and other important documents that I was traveling with got lost; all of the 365 persons on board with me drowned, except me. Doesn’t that tell you something? Perhaps, the Almighty GOD saved my life in order for me to spread his MESSAGE OF LOVE to mankind”.

Right than, I made up my mind to help Dr. Mr. Old Man Beggar, and at the same time, I thought of the Good Samaritan story that Jesus told to the lawyer:
“A man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho.  Robbers took his clothes, beat him, and left him for dead. A priest came down the road and saw him and passed him by. Then a Levite came along and saw him lying there and did not stop.

“But a Samaritan came down the road and saw the man. He had compassion and went to the man to help him. He put bandages on his wounds, took him to an inn, and looked after him.

“When it was time for the Samaritan to leave, he gave the innkeeper some money to take care of the man, adding: ‘If you spend more, I will repay you when I return.’
“Now I ask you,’ said Jesus, ‘which was truly a neighbor to the man who was robbed?’ The lawyer answered: ‘The one who showed mercy and helped him.’

“Then Jesus said: ‘Go and do likewise.” “The Good Samaritan story motivated me to take Dr. Mr. Old Man Beggar home; I had him to scrub (bath) with hot, hot water, and I fed him. Afterwards, I summoned all of my friends with musical talent (pointing to the crew, which consisted of singers, drummers, the Saw Player, the Money Collector, etc.) for us to take Dr. Mr. Old Man Beggar around to spread GOD’s message of LOVE through song and dance to raise enough money in order for him to continue his journey around the world.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the true story of Dr. Mr. Old Man Beggar”. Oh, before I forget, “My friend, my Christmas on you-oh! I wish every one of you a joyous Christmas and a Happy New Year.

PEOPLE TO PEOPLE: Liberia online news, Siahyonkron Nyanseor, 2010. 

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