Good Morning, Good Morning! And Happy Holidays to you! I don’t know how everyone else is feeling out there, but I personally have had some serious issues with getting into the “spirit” of things this year. Life things happen at unfortunate times sometimes and, while adulting through some recent challenges in life, it’s been tough for even perpetually positive me to start spreading that holiday cheer. But as I sat down to write this article, I was reminded that those life’s challenges are precisely the reason for this particular St. John holiday tradition. An annual gathering that allows us to be together and celebrate the year’s accomplishments and recover from the difficulties that island life may have thrown our ways. A gathering that gives us the opportunity to get dressed up and get into that holiday spirit before the crazy busy of Christmas on St. John actually begins. I’m feeling a bit more festive already…Are you?
You see, the All-Island Holiday Party, lovingly referred to as St. John Prom, tradition began just before Christmas in 1995. If you have brushed up on your St. John history, you’ll recognize that 1995 was also the year that Hurricane Marilyn devastated the USVI, leaving thousands of residents homeless in the St. Thomas/St. John District. If you were on island or following along on relief and recovery efforts in the months after Irma and Maria in 2017, well, I’m pretty sure you can sympathize with how exhausted we all were by the time the holidays rolled around. So, in a flashback to the holiday season of 1995 we see a very similar situation.
Everyone on St. John had been cleaning up the messes in their lives made by the natural disaster that hit our shores on September 12, 1995. Trees down, roofs gone, power non-existent for months. Connectivity? Forget about it. The residents of Love City were here, cleaning up the mess themselves. Putting their lives back together piece by piece. Overcoming challenges, like we do.
Just in writing this, I’m starting to feel like my recent obstacles are a little more obsolete.
Anyway, prior to Christmas in 1995, Caneel Bay Resort hosted an event that unknowingly would become a lasting holiday tradition for nearly thirty years. The first All-Island Holiday Party was hosted at the now ill-fated resort as a reason for everyone on island, who had been in the trenches for so many weeks, to get cleaned up, dressed up and enjoy the company of one another while celebrating their accomplishments and indulging in food, drinks and merriment. In short, it was an evening to remember and a reason to forget what was happening “in real life.” Even if just for a few hours of joy.
For the next few years, the resort continued to host the event until it moved to town and its current location at Mongoose Junction. Here, the event, hosted by the Mongoose Merchants would continue every holiday season. Growing those hearts three sizes too small into a glittery, festive snow globe with Jingle Bells on the steel pan playing in the background.
If you have ever lived on (or visited) St. John during the holidays, you’ll probably understand how special this event is without further explanation. But, for those of you who would enjoy a bit more intel, I’ll share an “I love prom” version of my own…
Let me be clear, the holidays are my favorite time of year. A reason to give! A reason to get festive! A reason to gather and indulge in both food and drink and the company of the people you love. All of these amazing things are rounded out with twinkling lights, Santa hats, gleeful children and tinsel on the tree. What’s not to love?
But, when I arrived on St. John in 2012, I had NO idea what to expect from the holiday season. Coming from Colorado, I was used to snow, skiing, the chill in the air…All things that added to my idea of this particular time of year. I had pretty much resigned myself to not much of a holiday celebration as December approached. But, as we got into the month, Love City surprised me in the best way possible. As it has so many times over the years.
The tree was trimmed and warmly glowing in Franklin Powell Park. Talk of Santa arriving BY BOAT spread across the island. The announcement of an ugly sweater party at The Tap Room peaked my interest. And everyone kept talking about the prom. In my mind, that particular event was reserved for high school juniors and seniors. Why were all of the “adults” talking about it with such excitement?
Well, my birthday weekend rolled around, which (lucky for me!) happens to always correspond with prom. And my co-workers and myself headed to Mongoose Junction after work at Asolare. I was so excited to see what the hype was all about. And, for me, prom exceeded my expectations. Everyone I had met in my short time on island was unrecognizable in their make-up, their sport coats, their high heels. Live music was playing, although I couldn’t tell you now who it was that first year. Everyone was SO happy. It was truly beautiful.
Fast forward to the holidays of 2017…And, well, we were in a very similar position to the residents of St. John at the inception of the All-Island Holiday Party back in 1995. We were tired. Many were still without a home. Without power. But, when Michael and Barbie Barry (owners of the Sun Dog Cafe) and the Mongoose Merchants association announced that the All-Island Holiday Party was a necessity for that year and would absolutely happen. Well, it gave us all something incredibly positive to look forward to. And those bright lights on the horizon were absolutely essential at that difficult time in our lives.
For that one beautiful night in December, We laughed together. We cried together. And we embraced each other in such a special way. Each hug that night seemed to say “I’m glad you’re still here. We are still standing. We will get through this.” Necessary doesn’t even begin to describe what Prom was that year. For the first time, I REALLY got it. I understood why this holiday tradition began and how important the frivolousness of it can be in a time where it is absolutely essential.
I’m not crying. Ok, I am.
This year, we have been spared the difficulties of a storm of impact. But the reason to celebrate still exists in those smaller hardships that seem so big as the holidays approach. The 28th Annual All-Island Holiday Party will take place at Mongoose Junction on Saturday, December 16 beginning at 9PM. And this year, the event is hosted by Sun Dog Cafe and none other than News of St. John!
This beautiful celebration of diversity, unity and community has become, over time, a social highlight for many full-time St. John residents and locals and a kind of homecoming for many seasonal residents and brings together Love City visitors and residents from all different walks of life and cultural backgrounds.
Music this year will be performed by St. John’s own Quelbe Resurrection Band, performing in the center courtyard from 9 pm to midnight. Quelbe music, sometimes called scratch music, is the traditional music of the Virgin Islands, performed originally on homemade instruments with an emphasis on rhythmic elements. Lyrically similar to calypso with its social commentaries, it has evolved with the addition of amplification and melodic elements. Quelbe Resurrection modernizes and adapts the musical traditions of our island.
Quelbe Resurrection features notable performers including Carly Powell, Lybia Callwood, Tommy Pilgrim, Theodora “Tutts” Moorehead, Lionel “Magic” Mulraine, Clifton Finch, Frankie “Bloop” Braithwaite and roadies Stanley Powell Jr. and Charles “Kala” Jackson.
Sun Dog Cafe, celebrating 26 years in business on St. John, will provide a buffet of fabulous hors d’oeuvres. News of St. John will feature a wine bar. And the St. John Photo Booth will be on hand to take pictures and to award “prom king” and “prom queen” awards. Stop by the photo booth to cast your ballot for this year’s prom king and queen! You might know a little about last years’ royalty 🙂
Cash bars are throughout the celebration space will be plentiful during the evening so bring a bit of cash with you. Prom is an adult only event so please leave the kiddos at home for this one. There are a TON of other fun kid-friendly events happening on island throughout the holiday season! Also, please leave your furry friends at home. The loud music and lively crowd could be a bit too much for them.
So, bust out your holiday best, your glitter, your tuxedo t-shirts, your sport coats and, yes, your high heels! This is one event on St. John that goes beyond your typical “island fancy.” And I so very much look forward to seeing you all there.
Happy Holidays everyone! I for one am feeling much more in the holiday spirit after writing all of this. It’s time to trim the palm tree!
Oh, and a special thank you to everyone who submitted the photos for this little walk down memory lane! I’m sorry I couldn’t use all of them. But I very much enjoyed all that you shared!