Happiness, gifts, carols, snow, mistletoe. These are some of the terms usually associated with Christmas. Despite not having snow in Jamaica, like many countries, Christmas is the last month of the year when family and friends celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. However, like many other things, Jamaica adds its own uniqueness to this celebration. When traveling the Jamaican streets and visiting communities, signs normally associated with this special celebration are freshly painted houses, pepper lights that twinkle like stars at night, trimmed Christmas Trees, Christmas carols blasting from loudspeakers and market places that are packed with people buying new clothes, shoes, curtains, sheets, etc. Anticipation for this celebration usually starts in September and heightens in November with Christmas breeze cooling the mornings and balmy evenings.
Before the big day, there is what is called Gran’ Market. This event is held in every major towns and cities across the island on Christmas Eve and continues into the early hours of Christmas Day. As its name suggests, it is a grand affair that brings buyers and shoppers together for last minutes shopping. During the day between 12:00 and 6:00 is the most exciting part, especially for children. They are given the chance to enjoy games such as merry-go-rounds, bounce-about, train-rides, riding the bull and many others.
Around 6:00 the evening part of Grand market starts. During this time music is played, houses are beautifully lit with pepper lights and people are either busy dancing, shopping or simply walking around with friends. There are also normally street vendors who sell food such as jerk chicken, boiled corn, fish, beverages, and sweets like cotton candy.
Following Grand Market is Christmas day! The day starts off with breakfast which usually includes ackee and saltfish with either bread or roasted breadfruit and sometimes consists of boiled banana, fried plantain, a glass of sorrel drink and chocolate tea. The sorrel drink, also known as red tea, Roselle or Sudanese tea is made from the Jamaican sorrel plant, a member of the hibiscus family. It is often made in advance before Christmas day. To make the drink, boiled water is poured over the sorrel, grated ginger, cloves, and pimento. After cooling it is sweetened with sugar and flavoured with rum or wine.
Dinner is usually served in the afternoon and often includes baked turkey, chicken, curried goat, stewed oxtail, pot-roasted pork and rice, and peas.
After dinner Christmas fruit cake is served. This is prepared by soaking the fruits for the cake in white rum and red wine months before Christmas. In many families, baking pudding or Christmas fruit cake is a whole day family activity. The children are tasked with washing mixing bowls and preparing utensils while the adults cream the sugar and butter for the batter. These cakes are also often given as gifts to friends or neighbours.
Christmas is the festive season for giving. Parents reward their children with the latest gadgets, books and toys and co-workers surprise their “office pixie” at Christmas Parties. Gifts are also distributed to the more vulnerable groups in communities and state-run institutions.
Boxing Day, which follows Christmas Day got its name from the tradition of tradesmen receiving gifts in boxes (a “Christmas Box”) from their employers for a year’s work well done. Boxing Day is also linked to an older English tradition in which servants who had to keep working in their masters’ household throughout Christmas Day would be allowed to visit their families, on the day after Christmas. The mistress of the house would give each servant a box with leftovers from the household’s Christmas Dinner and items of clothing from the annual pruning of the household’s wardrobes. The workers, therefore, always looked forward to Boxing Day, since this was when they could take home that box of gifts.
Today, Boxing Day is better known as a public holiday and unlike in the US it is a very quiet day in Jamaica. In many families, it is the day used to visit other friends and relatives since Christmas day is often reserved for closer family members. Many also often flock to the beaches.
New Year’s Eve
New Year’s Eve in Jamaica is chocked full of parties and events across the island. It is not only a time for celebration but also a time for reflection. Jamaica affords you the option to either spend time dancing with DJs on beaches or in villas or gathered with the community to attend a Watch Night Service at church. One of the island’s most popular events is the New Year Fireworks on Waterfront, Down Town Kingston where artistes are invited to perform. It features a kiddies village, a massive craft vendors’ arcade and other entertainments such as dancing competitions on stage. At midnight, following a countdown, fireworks are displayed.