In Jamaica you know the Christmas season is here, not by the decorations but by the cool breeze that come in. The temperature drops and there is often a nice breeze that cools the island. You also know because there is a whole lot of paining and cleaning going on. For many Jamaican homes this is the time of year for “spring cleaning”. Gutters are washed down, if they exist. A fresh coat of paint is put on exterior walls. New curtains and doilies are put up inside the homes. Instead of focusing on gifts and decorations there is almost like a purging and renewal going on.
This is also a time for school exams to happen, so the children are all anxious about studying and passing exams. Some places of business and some homes do put up lights and decorations, but for the most part decorating is not done here, at least not to the point it is done back home. Instead of focusing on Santa, which I have never heard a child talk about, they focus on fun, food and family. This is the time of year when Sorrel drink is made, Christmas cake is shared and a feast is put forth. Gift exchanges will be very small trinkets or not at all. In fact many families do not buy gifts but instead head to Grand Market on Christmas Eve. This is a time of celebration. My host family has invited me to go with them this year, I went last year to the one in Ochi but this year I will be going to Brown’s Town, weather permitting. I have heard stories about the Brown’s Town Grand Market and how it is much more festive than the one in Ochi.
In the Grand Market we can see John Canoe players and traditional dress for traditional dances. We will see vendors along the roadsides selling anything and everything. Most families buy a new set of clothes for each member and dress up for this event. We can often see children getting small sweeties and a small new toy, often towards the end of the night as this is when vendors drop the price. This is truly an event to be seen. If you come to Jamaica for Christmas, you should definitely find the local shopping mecca and participate and observe the Grand Market. Oh but be wary of pick pockets and robberies as these crimes increase this time of year.
Be sure to enjoy some Christmas cake, which is basically a fruit cake, but with a load of rum in it. Also try the Sorrel drink, made from a type of Hibiscus with rum and red wine added to it. Be sure to dress in your finest clothes and take in the delights of the Market. Knowing that the party will go on until dawn, when people will then often head into the Church for a Christmas sermon. Know that the family will feast after the service well into the night, eating and drinking and enjoying the day to the fullest. And if the weather is nice the families often head to the nearest beach to enjoy some time at the sea. Often the day after Christmas is a family fun day of beach or river activity. The day after is called boxing day and it is derived from the time of slaves where the owners would give the slaves the day off to visit family sending a box with the Christmas feast from the previous night home with them.
To me this is a much better way to celebrate the holiday. Instead of breaking the bank decorating and gift giving, give the gifts of time and experiences. Learn to enjoy family time and looking forward to the new year. Finding the joy in just being with friends and family is the greatest gift I can think of, and this is really what a Jamaican Christmas is about!