Whereas large metropolitan countries have countdowns, ball drops and fireworks to ring in the New Year, here in Saint Lucia, Ole Year’s Night mass and the ever so popular Assou Square are the widely accepted traditions. As an opportunity to step out in brand new clothes and set the tone for the remaining 364 days, Assou Square has never been short of patrons – adults and children alike.
As a child, the anticipation of going to Assou Square began to build up from Christmas. It was an opportunity to go out with family, meet friends, enjoy local performances and, of course, buy toys. This is the Assou Square that I have always known. In fact, as children we joked about it being called ‘rectangle’ considering the Choiseul playing field, where the event was held, was in fact no square. (And yes, Choiseul does have its own Assou Square Festivities!)
As most events organised for children went, sundown signalled the end of it, and marked the time to go home. A bitter pill made all the easier to swallow given that I already had my fill of bakes, fried chicken, roasted sausages and cotton candy. Dressed in character-themed attire and illuminating toys in tow, I made my way home. That was the end of Assou Square; well, at least the first day.
This year was the first in many when I did not attend the festivities. It no longer has my interest. Between having to wade through the torrent of candy-fuelled tots and the prospect of ruining yet another pair of new shoes in the sludge which routinely covers the ground around the square (as if by design), I couldn’t be bothered. It was another generation’s turn for mud and small children.
I wasn’t the only one uninterested and underwhelmed by what Assou Square had become. Older relatives sharing stories of merry-go-rounds, ferris wheels, and other Saint Lucian rarities made it seem more enticing than what is presented now. I did, however, observe this week’s earlier festivities from a distance as we drove along the road. A few booths scattered here and there along the field, and a small stage to one end. There were more ‘no parking’ signs along the road than there were people –but admittedly, it was still a bit early.
This notion of it being ‘too early to be crowded’ struck a nerve in some people. I overheard discussions on the difference between then and now in relation to when people brought their children to the event. Spirited as the discussion was, permitting a child to attend Assou Square at night unsupervised is a difficult position to defend. It’s more than simply a case of functioning on ‘Lucian time’. It is a blatant abandonment of the notion that we should let children be children
Underage drinking and hiding in dark corners to partake in all manner of indecency – activities made all the easier under the cover of darkness – have become the norm. For some, allowing children to attend activities at this time is a larger problem than the mischief they are likely to partake in on the day in question. They fear that it further perpetuates a number of societal ills by creating a sense of entitlement which causes them to believe that they are allowed to do as grown folks do.
According to my mother (who never really had the privilege of attending Assou Square), persons went straight from church to Square. Perhaps just a tinge of that conservative nature should be brought back to the event to make it more of a family-centric activity.
I have a deep affinity for Assou Square. It was as much a part of my childhood as climbing trees and walking to the beach. However, in all honesty, this year might have been my last Assou Square outing, at least until things return to the way they used to be.