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KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – This country has taken on the Christmas feel, with the national Christmas Festival in full gear and the unique Nine Mornings celebrations underway.

Several communities, including the North Leeward town of Chateaubelair and New Grounds, on the windward side of the country were slated to launch their Christmas celebrations last night as judging in the National Christmas Lighting Competition got underway

Parliament last week approved the estimates for an EC$793.9 million budget in 2012 before suspending their meeting until Jan. 9, for the budget debates.

And, with the major political talk shows suspended for the year, Vincentians have begun to focus fully on Christmas, when spending and consumption are at their highest.

Several communities across the country are well into their celebrations of Nine Mornings, the unique Vincentian festival, during which residents wake up during the pre-dawn hours to take part in a range of activities.

Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, who left the country on Saturday for a 15-day trip that will see him spending Christmas in Bethlehem, took part in the main Nine Mornings celebrations, in Kingstown, on Friday.

Gonsalves, donned in a navy blue, short sleeve shirt, blue jeans and sneakers, joined with the Bowman brothers in singing “Everyday will be like a holiday” and “Put Jesus in yo’ Christmas”, much to the amusement of the crowd.

Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace, in wishing citizens a merry Christmas later that day, noted that Kingstown Town Board workers had not been paid for the past five weeks.

He said that paying salaries would continue to be a problem for the government in 2012.

The Prison Concert was held on Sunday, one day after the Police Force held its own inter-departmental carolling competition, with the National Carolling Contest slated for Wednesday night.

Also on Sunday, thousands of Vincentians flocked Kingstown, the main shopping district, to take advantage of extended shopping hours and special deals.

The Salvation Army has been urging Vincentians to contribute to its Kettle Appeal, as it seeks to raise the EC$100,000 needed to finance its charity programmes next year.

However, amidst the hustle and bustle, a local supplier of fuel announced on Monday that it had run out of diesel and its gasoline supplies were “limited” because of industrial action in Trinidad.

Further, police have been encouraging citizens to secure their property against unscrupulous characters and to guard against three-card gamblers looking to make a quick buck by swindling gullible persons, especially in Kingstown.

The Ministry of Agriculture late November announced its plan to guard against “price gouging” as the demand for eggs increases.

A meeting with stakeholders agreed that local production in November and December would meet 85 to 90 per cent of the eggs required by local consumers.

The remaining 10 to 15 per cent — 500 cases of eggs — will be imported, but measures have been put in place to prevent price gouging and unwarranted price increases due to artificial scarcity.

Meanwhile, Chief Environmental Health Officer Rupert Doyle told NBC News on Monday that the risk of food borne illnesses would rise as the sale of meat increase as Christmas draws near.

Public health officials will also increase efforts to ensure the safety of meat on the local market by inspecting animals before and after they are slaughtered.

They will try to ensure that sick animals are not slaughtered and that infected meat is not sold to the public.

All persons slaughtering animals must be registered, including those slaughtering animals for personal consumption. Butchers must have a health certificate before slaughtering animals for sale to the public, Doyle told NBC News.

Vincentians are in for a long weekend, with Christmas on Sunday, Boxing Day on Monday, and Tuesday also being a pubic holiday.

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