It’s t-minus 3 days till Christmas and I am over the moon excited. I can’t wait to see all my relatives and enjoy the joyous day with them, reminiscing on the good times and being happy. But as the anticipation for Christmas Day builds, I want to share some of the reasons I love Christmas as a Jamaican and reflect on our rich history and customs – especially during this season.
Christmas in Jamaica is about celebrating the birth of Christ, enjoying good food and drink, chilling with great company, gift exchanges, caroling, and an all-around awesome time of merriment. It features a host of activities stemming from the country’s history as a colony of England and has carried on for generations.
History of Christmas In Jamaica
During the earlier years, plantation work would cease from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day, while the owners would gift each slave a morsel of meat and cloth. Now to us, that may not sound like much, but to the slave who all through the year ate scraps and entrails, getting meat was a treat. They would also receive wine, which led to a whale of a party among the slaves.
These early traditions have informed our present and in some instances still form part of culture and practices throughout the season. Today we’ll look into a few Jamaican Christmas customs that have carried on through history, and other new traditions. Let’s dive in:
Jonkunnu is a blend of West African masked dances and British folk plays, which was street-side entertainment during slavery. The bands would move from house to house entertaining the wealthy and receiving gifts of food, drink, and money from the wealthy. They’d play drums, rattles, bottles, graters costumed in various characters and dance to the tune of the music.
In case you were wondering what the slaves would do with the cloth they received as gifts, here’s your answer. The traditional banks would consist of characters such as King, Queen, Pitchy-Patchy, Devil, Policeman, Horsehead just to name a few.
2. Gran’ Market
If the phrase ‘shop till you drop’ were to be epitomized, this would be it. Gran’ Market is an annual day of commerce held in many major towns across the island on Christmas Eve. It continues into the early hours of the morning. Many major towns become impassable to vehicular traffic because the streets are inundated with buyers and sellers who wish to finish last-minute shopping.
In addition to the commercial aspect, Gran’ Market is also about parties and dancing as there is always music booming through the streets. This is what I remember most about this custom – there is always music and a drunk man, slurring his speech as he belts the lyrics of the hit songs coming across the airwaves.
3. Church Service
Whether it is communion, candlelight, concerts, plays, or simple worship sessions, the events calendar for the church community is jam-packed during the festive season as churches across various denominations commemorate the birth of Christ throughout the season. Traditionally, Roman Catholic and Anglican churches host Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, while other Christian denominations have early morning services on Christmas Day, just before the beginning of the day’s festivities.
4. Gift exchanges
It’s the season of giving! Whether it’s a parent rewarding a child; a co-worker surprising a pixie, or a random act of kindness to someone in need, Jamaicans exercise their gifting muscles during this season. Corporate companies also jump in on this tradition and usually treat persons within vulnerable groups in communities and state-run institutions.
5. The Food
Last but certainly not least, the food! Villagers, the fact that I did an entire post on the food in Jamaica at Christmas, should show you just how serious and amazing this element of Christmas is to our celebrations. From the starters to the main course to the dessert and the drink, you really can’t help but imbibe and immerse yourself in a plate of tantalizing flavours at Christmas time.