Fruit cake, sorrel, dining with family, and Greetings Across The World (GATW) are four staples which have become synonymous with Christmas in Jamaica. However, of all four staples, only Greetings Across The World can point to its genesis being at a tennis match in 1987.
The five-minute programme allows Jamaicans living in the United Kingdom (UK), the United States of America (USA), Canada and the Cayman Islands, to send greetings to their loved ones in Jamaica during the Christmas season. It is aired on television three times daily, and has been well-received over the years because of the bonds of kinship it has forged between Jamaicans in the Diaspora and those at home. However, GATW might not have come to fruition had it not been for that conversation on a tennis court in 1987.
“I played tennis every Saturday and at the time, I was just developing my interest in filming,” show creator Clarence Royes shared. “I would, therefore, carry my small Sony camera wherever I went. One Saturday, one of the guys who always came to the court sat beside me waiting for a match. He asked me, ‘How come you always walk with a camera?’ I told him that it was a habit I started while I was studying in the UK and being among a group of Jamaicans I went to school with.”
Royes also took the opportunity to reveal his idea about doing a show in the UK, with Jamaicans sending greetings to their loved ones back home during the Christmas season.
“Little did I know that this young man, Conrad Smith who worked at the Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS), would have found my concept interesting and that JNBS was establishing a foothold in the UK. He took the concept along with some of my work to JN; they loved it right away and quickly ran with the idea. We started filming in October 1987 and we captured everything – from the food, different functions, dances. Everywhere we thought Jamaicans were, we would find them,” he said.
From that time to today GATW has become a part of Jamaica’s Christmas culture and for Royes, who attended St Andrew Technical High School, this was what he wanted when he thought of the programme.
“The response over the years has been tremendous,” he affirmed. “The Jamaicans abroad love the fact that they were able to connect with family and friends, some of whom they had not seen in ages. They always say to me: ‘Don’t change a thing, we love it same way so.’ ”
For the father of two, the programme has been popular for the past 33 years because of the connection it established between Jamaicans at home and in the Diaspora.
“Although the landscape has changed and we are much more connected in these times, there is still something about seeing ‘real’ people and personalities whom we can identify with on TV,” he added.
“The expanse of the programme, and the fact that we are able to highlight certain aspects of persons who step up before our cameras, helped to make it authentic; and it was important to us to represent Jamaicans in the best light possible, and allow them to stay true to themselves,” he said.
For Royes, an engineer by profession, seeing and hearing the stories of families being reunited as a result of the programme, or finding comfort in knowing that a relative they have not heard from for years is still alive, has helped to motivate them to keep filming.
“There are many such stories,” he added. “But the ones which standout most involve the parents who send greetings for their children. Gradually, as the years go by, the children migrate and come along with their parents to send greetings. We literally get to watch families progress and grow. It’s very heart-warming.”
Royes added that the show, which will begin airing in December but with a twist owing to COVID-19, has been a joy to film. The stories of triumph over adversity; Jamaicans taking the risk to immigrate to a foreign country and the challenges they faced with discrimination; their immigration status in some cases; and working multiple jobs, he said, have also served as inspiration.
“I remember being inspired from the first time I went to the JN Group and they put me on the road in the countries where they were seeking to establish a relation with Jamaicans in the Diaspora. We started in the UK, then we expanded to the USA, followed by Canada, and now the Cayman Islands,” he revealed.
For the avid musician, the success of GATW would not have been possible with the support of The Jamaica National Group, an entity whose name was mentioned no fewer than seven times during the interview.
“JN has been a great support to GATW, most notably the international offices and staff members. The level of support we continue to receive over the years has been immeasurable. Having the support of an established Jamaican entity such as the Jamaica National Group is a great place to be in,” he added.
In the world of television 33 years is a lifetime, and many programmes have come and gone. However, as the show begins its 34th season, Royes believes the staple has the potential to connect even more Jamaicans with home.
“I would like the show continue to grow and encompass other regions around the world. Jamaica is a place with an extensive reach, especially for being a relatively small country. We have a lot to offer and I believe, as an island, we could greatly benefit from any positive exposure we can get. GATW showcases our best selves, our true selves to the world, and there are so many ways we can benefit from that exposure,” he affirmed.
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