Dr. Fraser- Point of View
December 6, 2013
The Hundredth Anniversary that is Not!
So, it is now official! The year was 1913. This year is therefore the 100th anniversary of ‘Nine Mornings’. So says the Ministry of Culture, which has provided us with their version of historical truth. This has apparently been done by the stroke of a pen, following a vision or a dream or perhaps the dictates of someone’s fertile imagination. This reminds me, really, of “Animal Farm” and “1984,” two classics of George Orwell. So, our schoolchildren, when they get their SBAs or questions in school could authoritatively say that it is so. After all, the Ministry of Culture says so, so it must be so. As far as I am aware, no one so far has come up with a starting date for “Nine Mornings”.{{more}}
If they have found one that that they can defend beyond a shadow of doubt, then tell us and we will all celebrate the occasion with them. The festival is so unique that it is important we find the date of its origin, but until we do, you should not be simply picking a date out of a hat and taking the nation along with you. As I indicated previously I had checked the Ministry’s website where they admitted their ignorance about the date of origin, but in the next paragraph they proceeded to tell us that we are going to celebrate the 100th anniversary this year. When I made this information public, it was removed from the website.

The Ministry later clarified its position. It claimed that there are two theories about the origin of Nine Mornings. The one they have accepted, without telling us why, is that it was attributed to the “Novenas Catholics”, the Novena of the Catholic Church. Having made that declaration, they then go on to say that “the records from the Church itself suggest that the date of 1913 was the most probable date hence the embracing of 1913.” The stupidity of this statement needs no elaboration. They further compounded this by stating “that is the closest we can come to an approximation and starting date hence this year is a special year.”

Incidentally, I have come across another view of the origin of “Nine Mornings”. It attributes it to the Catholic Church. It puts the starting point at a date later than the official date recently proclaimed. It is from the Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices. Unfortunately, the author does not disclose his source, so we have to treat it like any other theory, yet to be proved. It reads as follows: “A particularly Vincentian celebration called the ‘Nine Mornings’ – originally Catholic but now celebrated by other Christians, including Anglicans – is held during the nine days before Christmas. According to tradition, the “Nine Mornings” originated in the 1920s when Carlos Verbeke (a Dominican priest in charge of St. Mary’s cathedral from 1919 to 1957) started celebrating a novena in the early morning hours instead of at midday, perhaps to take advantage of the people already being in the streets. Novenas, long customary in the Roman Catholic Church, are a devotion that is practiced over nine consecutive days as an act of thanksgiving or penitence. The Nine Mornings may also be the continuation and expansion of a tradition of merriment that dates back to the 1870s, when rival bands from different villages paraded in the streets of Kingstown.”

Interestingly this version acknowledges that there was a tradition of merriment that dates back to the 1870s. The novena, it appears, was held at midday but was changed to early morning by Charles Verbeke to capitalize on the fact that people were on the streets celebrating. It is conceivable then, if one accepts this scenario, that after the novena, Catholic worshippers walked the streets and that over time other Vincentians begun to follow suit and that this evolved into what we know as “Nine Mornings”. As with things that evolve into other entities, identifying the starting point is always ticklish. “Nine Mornings” was not an officially driven undertaking. It was very spontaneous. The celebrations which had been held since the 1870s lasted more than nine days and went into the New Year.
There must have been something which caused them, at some time, to become focused on the nine days before Christmas, which is why this version relating to Charles Verbeke makes more sense than most of the others. The traditional celebrations were regulated by the police, as can be seen by the regulations for 1919 that were put in place since the 1870s and continued up to the 1950s. The regulations allowed holiday gatherings to go up to the day after New Year’s. The regulations for 1919 said that until the 20th December no holiday bands “will be allowed in Kingstown except on Saturday mornings from 5 am…” The fact that these regulations remained unchanged testifies to the spontaneous, unplanned nature of ‘Nine Mornings’ and shows that it evolved from what existed. Here conceivably is the Catholic connection that is said to be associated with Charles Verbeke.

Why am I bothering myself about this? Is it not just another celebration? I stick for historical accuracy and resent the fact that you can take a nation and its people down a particular path with the statement that this is the closest we can come to an approximate date. This has now become historical truth. What other historical truths are there to be created? Once you are in this mindset, the next thing logically to do is to create other fictitious accounts of our history and culture. My big disappointment, however, is that this is apparently of little concern to most people.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.