Christmas in Jamaica is about celebration, spending time with loved ones and sharing gifts. Some traditional Jamaican rituals have vanished or changed with the times. But we absolutely do not mess with food.
The true spirit of a Jamaican Christmas lies in both the quality and quantity of meals served. Jamaicans will have a sumptuous Christmas meal, come hell or high water. It must include at least two different kinds of meat and at least one carb, vegetable dish and drink. These meals are often large enough to last for three days.
Here are some of Jamaica’s favourite Christmas dishes:
- Christmas Fruitcake – A dark, rich cake loaded with dried fruits, wine and rum that explodes in the mouth. The fruit is steeped in wine and/or rum, sometimes for months. It is the only acceptable dessert after the Christmas meal. Christmas Cake is served to guests upon arrival, and if this gesture is neglected, it may even be seen as bad manners. Typically, Jamaicans store a few cakes in the fridge to snack on during the holiday season. Christmas Fruitcake is also a great Jamaican Christmas gift, with families invariably receiving many each year. It’s a good thing we love the stuff!
- Sorrel – Some would say that a Jamaican Christmas is not complete without a cold glass of sorrel with meals. It is by far the most popular drink during the holiday season. Also known as hibiscus sabdariffa, the rich red bud of the plant is harvested from November to early December. It is dried and then steeped in hot ginger water. The result is a truly refreshing drink loaded with health benefits. I can help to manage high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, and it enhances liver function, all while being a great source of Vitamin C. Many Jamaicans add rum and/or wine to their sorrel to give it a kick and to increase their chance of having a good time.
- Ham – Christmas just isn’t Christmas without a delicious baked or roasted ham. It is usually marinated in sugar/honey, cloves, pineapple slices, cherries and fruit juices. Ham is the highlight of the Christmas meal, with the succulent roast serving as the centrepiece of dinner table. But there are some Jamaicans that do not eat pork, and for them we have…
- Curried Goat – In many communities at Christmas, a goat is picked from the herd, slaughtered and made into a delicious curry. Male or ram goats are preferred because of their distinct flavour. They also are great for a soup Jamaicans call “mannish water.” This spicy dish is served at any special occasion.
- Baked/Roast Chicken – Though Jamaicans serve chicken year-round, it gets special preparation during the holiday season. We feel comforted at Christmas by the sight of this juicy, oven roasted (or baked or barbequed) chicken, usually served in conjunction with other meats.
- Pot Roast – Otherwise known as roast beef, this meat is a luxury only seen on special occasions. Heavily seasoned and marinated for at least 24 hours, pot roast is a flavourful delicacy whose juices often serve as the gravy for the entire Christmas meal.
- Oxtail - Oxtail is perhaps the most revered of Jamaican soul food. Well-seasoned and cooked until the tender meat falls off the bone, this dish is to die for. Enjoy it with broad beans, carrots and lots of gravy. You can eat it with other things but it works best with rice. We can safely say you are not likely to have leftovers.
- Rice with Gungo Peas – Also known as pigeon peas, this rich source of protein is harvested just in time for Christmas. While red peas will suffice for the rice and peas dish the rest of the year, the Christmas meal requires the unique taste of gungo peas.
- Baked Macaroni and Cheese – Considered a true test of skill for anyone doing the cooking, baked macaroni and cheese is a wonderful complement to the Christmas meal. Everyone has a special recipe so it’s likely to taste different in each household. Creamy, gooey, cheesy, whatever your preference, this dish will bring a bite of heaven to your fork.
- Potato Salad – Made with boiled potatoes, eggs, diced vegetables and your choice of binding agent (typically mayonnaise), this is another favourite side dish for most Jamaicans. A good potato salad is carbohydrate heaven.