Jamaica might not be the first nation that comes into your mind when you think of Christmas, but that doesn’t mean Jamaicans aren’t just as crazy for Santa as the rest of the world. Indeed, anyone who visits Jamaica during December soon notice that residents easily make up for their lack of picturesque snow with their enthusiastic holiday spirit. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at a few unique Jamaican Christmas traditions.
1. Visiting the Grand Market
Before Christmas gets underway, Jamaicans celebrate what’s known as the Grand Market. As the name suggests, the Grand Market is a large street fair filled with artisan shops, music, and delectable local produce. Most of the vendors participating in this event paint their shops as well as decorate their booths with bells, streamers, and balloons.
Usually the Grand Market takes place over the weekend before Christmas and from dawn till dusk on Christmas Eve. Many Jamaicans take this opportunity to buy some last-minute Christmas gifts for their friends and family. Also, parents usually end up buying their children fun toys, firecrackers, and plenty of sweets. Locals dance the night away on this most energetic of Jamaican Christmas traditions.
2. Displaying Christmas Lights
Oh yes, Jamaicans love their Christmas light displays just as much as Americans do. Many families take a trip into the center of their towns to see the most spectacular light displays of the season. Some Jamaicans set up their light displays well in advance, while others only put on the finishing touches during Christmas Eve. Residents love putting up brand new curtains, colorful ornaments, and lighting up all their trees on this festive occasion. Many Jamaicans feel that bright light displays are a stupendous way to ring in the New Year.
3. Attending Christmas Mass
Just like anywhere else in the world, mass is of central importance to devoted Christians in Jamaica. The two major masses are the Midnight Mass Church Service and the Christmas Day Morning celebration. While not everyone attends these masses (many prefer partying all night long in the Grand Market), the majority of Jamaicans identify as Christians.
The three major versions of Christianity Jamaicans adhere to are Protestant (64 percent of the population), Seventh Day Adventist (12 percent), and Pentecostal (11 percent). In case you were wondering, only about 1 percent of the population identifies as the religion made famous by Bob Marley: Rastafarianism.
4. Going to Christmas Concerts
Music is a central part of Jamaican culture. Consequently, it’s fitting that live music concerts are one of the most popular Jamaican Christmas traditions. Almost every Jamaican town has a few special Christmas music concerts to check out.
Churches and community groups always come together to organize beautiful choruses and put on shows for the public in the days leading up to Christmas. Just take a quick look online to see all the incredible Christmas music concerts going on around Jamaica.
5. Attending the Junkanoo Festival
One of the most colorful Jamaican Christmas traditions is Junkanoo (aka John Canoe). This annual festival most likely has its origins in the culture of Akan slaves that were brought from Africa to the Caribbean and Americas. Junkanoo usually takes place on Boxing Day and/or New Year’s Day. It features tons of music, parades, and incredible hand-made masks. Locals dance throughout the street portraying different characters and animals from African folklore.
Although it might not be as popular in Jamaican cities today, you can always find energetic Jonkanoo festivities in the countryside. Besides Jamaica, Jonkanoo is celebrated in almost every Caribbean nation and even in parts of the USA with large Caribbean immigrant communities.
6. C0ming Together for Jamaican Christmas Meals
Nothing brings people together quite like good food. This is especially true during the Christmas season in Jamaica. In the morning, most families come together over the most iconic of Jamaican breakfasts: ackee and saltfish. A few other popular Christmas breakfast dishes include boiled bananas, breadfruit, and fried plantains. Many families take all of Christmas Eve to prepare their special Christmas dinner.
There are no set rules for what to include in a Jamaican Christmas dinner, but a few standards include curry goat and stewed oxtail. This dinner is often served with a side of fresh fruits and rice. For drink, Jamaicans love sorrel beverages. In case you didn’t know, sorrel is a green herb that has a tangy taste. Usually sorrel drinks are made with dried sorrel leaves, ginger, cloves, sugar, orange, rum, cinnamon, and a bit of ice.
7. Feasting on Jamaican Christmas Fruitcake
Speaking of traditional Jamaican Christmas meals, we just can’t ignore the desserts Jamaicans bake at this time of year. Perhaps the most delicious of all the Jamaican Christmas traditions is the red wine rum fruitcake. Believe it or not, this fruitcake takes about a month to properly prepare.
Locals have to soak whatever fruits they are going to use in their cake in Jamaican white rum and red wine for a whole month. Typical fruits used in a Jamaican fruitcake include raisins, cherries, and prunes. A few garnishes and spices used to enhance the fruitcake’s flavor include lemon, lime, and cinnamon.
8. Singing Jamaican Christmas Carols
Sure, Jamaicans love the old standard Christmas carols like “White Christmas” and “Silent Night”. However, Jamaican musicians enjoy putting their own distinctive twist on these holiday classics. Hundreds of reggae artists from Jamaica have recorded special renditions of almost all the major Christmas carols.
A few of the most popular original Jamaican Christmas carols include “Let Christmas Catch You In A Good Mood” by The Joe Gibbs Allstars, “Sing de Chorus” by Noel Dexter, and “Santa Ketch Up Inna Mango Tree” by Faith D’Aguila. You can actually find hi-quality versions of these and many other Jamaican Christmas carols on YouTube.
The Jamaican Christmas spirit is infectious. Anyone who visits this island nation during December can’t help but get swept away in the colorful pageantry of the Christmas season. Although they may be a bit different from the celebrations in your hometown, Jamaican Christmas traditions are all centered around the family.
Perhaps you might want to consider giving a “White Sand Beach Christmas” a try in Jamaica next year. Keep this Jamaican Christmas traditions list in mind when chilly December rolls around!