Christmas in Jamaica is a wonderful irie time of the year. It is so much more than Santa Claus or Christian holiday. A good ol’ Jamaican Christmas is a hybrid celebration of western tradition, many slave retentions and some other influences we’ve picked up along the way.
Most of you know this list, and you know that you are having a Jamaican Christmas if:
- Christmas decorations start in October. As soon as the Christmas breeze starts to blow Christmas decorations come out. You’re likely to hear your first Christmas Carol on the radio and you see a few decorations and lights mounted in late October. But you are certain Christmas is coming when in mid-November you see cars wearing antlers and glossy store brochures fall out of the newspapers. But it is definitely Christmas when the staff at every store you visit has donned a Santa hat
- You spend pre-Christmas buried in housework. Before celebrations can begin, your mother or grandmother leads the entire household in a rigorous ill-timed spring-cleaning exercise, where you mumble and daydream about the food you will eventually eat. But complain all you want, the entire house has to be washed, scrubbed and painted; the Christmas drapes, sheets, and tablecloths must make their way down from their yearlong resting place; the lights have to be pulled from boxes, untangled, tested and mounted and the yard is cut and swept.
- You have been to Gran Market. Christmas morning catches you dressed to puss-back-foot walking through the plazas of your town, looking at the well-decorated stalls filled with toys and knick-knacks. Gran Market is where children have their choice of toys and is your last opportunity for picking out last minute gifts.
- The bottle of currants, raisins, prunes and mixed fruit soaking in rum makes its way from the back of the cupboard. The ingredients for the fruitcake have been there for at least the past six months, living in dark wine waiting for this season. And its time for them to see the light of day for the fruit cake.
- You already know what is on the Christmas dinner menu. There is enough food in the house to feed an army. Take your pick of the favourite Christmas dinner staples: sorrel drink with rum and ginger, ham baked and glazed with pineapples and cherries, eggnog, gungo rice and peas, and a variety of meats and side dishes.
- Your friends and family come from foreign. Christmas in Jamaica is truly reunion season. Nearly everyone comes home, for the food, to see family and for the vacation. Cousins you haven’t seen in years, aunt and uncles your forgot, friends who never wrote you, all return home for the season. It's the time of the year you often hear: “ So what you doing with yourself now?” at least a dozen times.
- You wake up to Christmas breakfast. You know its Christmas morning when the house is filled with a galore of guests and gifts, and there is the smell of an elaborate spread of ackee, callaloo and fried dumplings, plantains and chocolate and coffee tea. Christmas Breakfast is so important that if breakfast isn’t cooked at home, then you have to go to out to Christmas Brunch.
- You have a list of places to go for Christmas Dinner. Jamaican Christmas is a foodies’ paradise. Christmas dinners are open gatherings of food, rum, dominoes and laughter. It’s when you stop by friends and family to wish them the best for the season, drink their rum, eat their food, tease your cousins and bask in the gaiety of it all. It is also the day you walk with your storage dishes, so that what you can’t eat you take home.
- You have seen Jonkunnu performers. It Christmas in Jamaica when Jonkunnu bands suddenly appear in the streets. The elaborately masked and costumed characters of House Boy, Devil, Pitchy Patchy, and Bellywoman are usually dancing up a storm, each with their designated dance style entertaining all and scaring children back to their tablets.
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