Is it too early to start talking about Christmas? There’s something about that slight chill in the air that lets you know the festive season is near. My memories of Christmases past are filled with joy, laughter and a lot of food. Growing up in Jamaica during the festive season was an amazing experience. There is no shortage of activities to make the most of the season. These activities range from church services to trips to the beach. In this post, I want to share 12 things Jamaicans do to make the festive season more fun.
Things Jamaicans do to make the festive season more fun
Attend Church Services
What better way to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas than by fellowshipping and worshipping with your friends and family? Going to church during the festive season is an ongoing tradition and most Jamaicans try to attend church at least once during this time. The church services may differ across denominations as some activities may include candlelight ceremonies, carol services, masses or prayer meetings. Churches are especially packed on Christmas Sunday as saints and sinners dress in their ‘Sunday best’ and attend service. Growing up I looked forward to this as I was sure I would get new clothes for church.
Fun fact: Jamaica is said to have the most churches per square mile of any country in the world.
Christmas Cleaning and Decorations
Everyone wants to look their best during the festive season and the homes of Jamaicans are not exempt from this. Many Jamaicans use the festive season as an opportunity to clean every crevice and corner of their homes. This to the dismay of children who are roped into helping. Once the place is thoroughly cleaned it’s time to get the fancy curtains and sheets they put aside for the season. In some communities buildings are re-painted and trees, fences and sidewalks are whitewashed. Some persons may adorn their homes with tinsel and Christmas lights which we call Peppa lights.
Bake Sweet Treats
While I’m no expert at baking, I know my way around baked treats. During the festive season, the heavenly smell of freshly baked treats may be found all around. One of my favourite baked treats is the Jamaican Christmas cake or fruit cake as it is also called. Jamaicans love to bake and are particularly good at it. Baking also promotes bonding with mothers and children. Most Jamaican children love to ‘lick the spoon’ and to get that honour, they must help in some way. They may help by gathering the ingredients or mixing the batter, as long as they eventually get the spoon. Other than cakes some Jamaicans will bake some of the traditional treats including; Gizzada, Grater Cake or Drops (coconut-based treats). With a little food colouring these can easily be transformed into the perfect Christmas dessert.
Christmas is a time for family, friends and fun. There is no better way to combine all three than to host a get together over food. This may take the form of an intimate setting with immediate family and a few invited guests. It may also take the form of an outdoor cookout. This usually involves giant pots of food, paper plates, makeshift seats, domino playing and old hits.
The main thing that these two have in common is that there is always a lot of food. The appetizing food includes curried goat, fried chicken, stewed pork and sometimes fried or steamed fish, soup, rice and gungo peas which is a Christmas staple. The rice and gungo peas is a pain for me being the picky eater that I am. I don’t eat peas and the size of the gungo peas makes them harder for me to pick out. The food is usually served with a side of funny stories and good vibes with the occasional outbursts of laughter.
Christmas Shopping (Gran’ Market)
Shopping is the one activity that must be checked off on everyone’s list of things to do during the festive season. No matter how broke you may have been throughout the year, there is always money set aside for Christmas shopping. Of course, Christmas means more than just spending money on frivolous items but shopping is perfectly acceptable during the season. Earlier Attend Church Services I mentioned that I would look forward to getting new clothes for church during the festive season. Now at this time, everyone wants to look their best so it’s not Christmas without our ‘Christmas suit’ which is our term for any outfit bought during the festive season and this usually includes a trending item of clothing.
What makes Christmas shopping even more exciting in Jamaica is our Grand Market. Gran’ Market as the name suggests is a huge event that takes place annually on Christmas Eve, it involves food, music and shopping. This is often a teenager’s delight as this is the one night they get to stay out past midnight without repercussions. Retail stores and some other businesses stay open later than usual in the night to accommodate last-minute shopping. Vendors from near and far also get to display their wares in hopes to make some extra money for the holidays. On this rare occasion, vendors are allowed to sell on the streets without being penalized as the roads are sometimes closed to accommodate this.
Christmas Parties or Concerts
Ever heard the saying ‘The party don’t start til a Jamaican walks in’? Me neither I just made that one up. Christmas parties and concerts are common occurrences in Jamaica during the festive season. Schools and churches will host concerts where students, teachers and members may display their talents through music, dance and drama. Business places may also throw office parties or luncheons to allow their staff some time to kick back and get into the Christmas spirit. I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of the planning committee for my office’s Christmas Luncheon and I have enjoyed it each year. There are also street parties where sound systems are strung up in communities. Flyers advertising various all-inclusive events throughout the season can be seen all around. Some of which may even be themed.
Drink Special Beverages
It’s impossible to celebrate a holiday without liquid refreshments and Jamaica is no stranger to this sentiment. Whether you like your drinks strong or you are teetotal you won’t be left out. The most popular holiday drink in Jamaica is the sorrel drink. The dried flowers of the hibiscus sabdariffa (sorrel) plant are used to make the drink. This is usually done by pouring boiled water over the sorrel and leaving it to stand for a few hours before sweetening. Once this is done you may add rum and red wine if you so desire. Another popular drink for Jamaicans during the festive season is the rum punch. This beverage is a mixture of lime juice, white rum, syrup (preferably strawberry) and water. Once again with this beverage, the amount of alcohol is dependent on your preference.
The next beverage traditionally served on Christmas day is eggnog. This beverage consists of milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla and cream. I’ve never had homemade eggnog this is because it is not as popular as it once was in previous years and isn’t served as often. The final beverage often consumed by Jamaicans during the festive season is my favourite chocolate tea and yes I said chocolate tea. Chocolate Tea is the Jamaican version of hot chocolate. It is made from grated chocolate balls which are roasted dried cocoa beans which are pounded with a pestle with cinnamon and nutmeg. Chocolate tea is the ultimate breakfast beverage and is best served hot but you should be careful when drinking it as burnt tongues are the worst.
Jamaicans undoubtedly love music so it would be remiss of me to talk about things Jamaicans do and not mention the playing of music. If you go for a walk on any given day in any community you are guaranteed to hear music playing, whether it’s being played loudly from a vehicle, in someone’s house or at the nearest corner shop or bar piazza. This is even more prevalent during the festive season. Jamaicans tend to spread Christmas cheer by building a vibe and what better way to build a vibe than with music. The genre of music may vary and it often includes traditional and non-traditional Christmas favourites.
“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” ― Bob Marley
Christmas is frequently termed the ‘Season of Giving’ and as such is the tradition to exchange gifts during this time of the year. This is usually the time when children look forward to finally receiving that toy or gadget they’ve been begging their parents to buy them. This is also the time when persons present their pixie with their gift. Pixie is the Jamaican version of Secret Santa where you pick a name from a bag and purchase a gift for that person. There is usually a budget, so everyone gets an appropriate gift without overspending or feeling cheated. It is popular in offices, classrooms and among groups of friends.
Some organizations may host events which accommodate the giving of gifts to those who are less fortunate for example children or elderly people in homes. These gifts may come in many forms including but not limited to; cash, toys, toiletries, clothes, food or just simple acts of kindness. I had the opportunity to be a part of the group from my workplace that went to the children’s home a few times and it was an extremely rewarding experience.
While this is not as widely practised as in the past carolling is another activity that makes the festive season fun. This usually entailed groups of people, mainly church members, walking through communities and singing carols. Carolling was also used as a method of evangelism. These days most carolling is done at church or school through carol services.
Go to the Beach
Are you really on holiday if you don’t go to the beach? Jamaica has some of the most beautiful beaches and as islanders, we can’t seem to stay away from the beach for too long. In Jamaica, it is summer all year round and while the temperature during the festive season is a little cooler, it is rarely, if ever, too cold for the beach. Day trips to the beach are our way of bonding and spending time with our family and friends. Like the Christmas dinners, it can be more intimate or more elaborate.
There is a popular notion that Jamaican people ‘take their bellies with them everywhere’. This just means that wherever we go we expect to be fed, as a result, there is no beach trip without food and in some cases alcohol. In my opinion, food makes everything better. Going to the beach during the festive season is inevitable especially since most Jamaicans who live abroad tend to come home for the holidays and the beach is the perfect getaway from cold winters up north.
Tree lighting ceremonies commemorate the official lighting up of Christmas trees. The trees are always beautifully decorated with tinsel and ornaments. The ceremony is often done by local government officials in town centres or by managers at companies. This is usually accompanied by the singing of Christmas carols. Community groups may take it one step further by turning it into a competition where members from different zones decorate the tree at their respective roundabouts. They sometimes give a theme to work with and then a panel of judges would view and determine the winning zone. This usually a good way to garner community involvement as everyone lends a hand to ensure that their zone has a good chance of winning.
There are many activities Jamaicans do during the festive season that makes it more exciting. The most important thing, however, is to remember the reason for the season. Christmas is a time to relax, reflect, fellowship, bond and spend time with the ones you love. It is also a time to give love and help those who are in need. Regardless of how you choose to celebrate the season, you should try to make the most of it and make memories. To quote one of my favourite Jamaican Christmas songs Christmas Jamaican Style
“In the West Indies every Christmas is a time for all to smile. There’s no wintertime, there’s a sweet sunshine at Christmas Jamaican style.” – Unique Vision