By Joshcia Lawrence
Around the world, Christmas is a highly anticipated festive season, and this is no less in Jamaica, where throughout the island, there is heightened excitement as Christmas approaches. Wherever you're from, no doubt you enjoy Christmas celebrations in your homeland, but I dare say that nothing beats a Jamaican Christmas. Here are the top 7 traditions that make Christmas in Jamaica such a unique experience.
7. Drinking Sorrel
Traditionally, sorrel is the exclusive beverage at Christmastime in Jamaica. Even though the sorrel plant is available at other times of the year, there is no other time when Jamaicans indulge in this drink as much as we do during the month of December. Sorrel farmers plant the crop during the spring and summer months so that the plant is available in abundance just in time for Christmas. Some Jamaicans say no real sorrel drink is complete without ginger and a ‘toops’ of rum, though a few will substitute the rum with grape juice. It is also not uncommon to brew the sorrel and allow it to ferment for up to a year before drinking.
6. Eating Christmas cake/pudding
Christmas cake or fruit cake is another 'must have' part of the festive celebrations. In fact, it is quite in order for visitors to any Jamaican home during the season to receive a slice of Christmas cake as a small gift. This baked delicacy consists of generous amounts of dried raisins, cherries and prunes that have been soaked in rum and red fruit wine for sometimes up to a year. Beware though! This is not just a regular fruit cake. In addition to the liquor soaked fruit, the finished cake is often bathed in more rum and wine for two to three days before eating.
5. Cook up a pot of Gungo Peas/ Jerusalem Peas and Rice
Food is definitely a critical part of the seasonal celebrations, and on such a special occasion, Jamaica's mainstay, rice and peas is not to be left out. At this time of year, it is customary to see an increase of gungo peas on the market, meaning gungo peas and rice is definitely making an appearance at the Christmas dinner. Another legume associated with Christmas is one called Jerusalem peas. The bean which resembles kidney beans but is much smaller, is linked to Christmastime so much so that it is also called Christmas peas.
4. Going to Grand Market
One distinctively Jamaican Christmas tradition is the practice of staying out until midnight on Christmas Eve. The streets of main towns are generally packed with children and adults; everybody joining in the festivity. Children are extremely excited as it is not usual for them to be out at such late hours. Vendors are strewn along the roadside selling toys and clothes at cheap costs. Jamaicans take this opportunity to shop for last-minute gifts and to give the kids a chance to view the lighting of the grand Christmas tree.
3. Relatives come home from foreign
We already know that there is a very large Jamaican population in the diaspora. However, many family members abroad, even those who haven't travelled throughout the year, book their tickets to head home for Christmas. Those who haven’t seen their loved ones for some time really look forward to these visits and see it as such a joyous reunion. Family and friends visit each other, basking in each other’s company, reminiscing on childhood and past experiences, and of course partaking in the Christmas dinner.
2. Xmas Barrel Come!
At Christmas in Jamaica, one thing is certain and it is that, shipping companies make significant profits during the Christmas period. If at no other time, faithful family members and friends living abroad customarily send a barrel to their relatives at the end of the year. Crowds of people flock to the wharves in the days leading up to Christmas desperate to get their goods before the extended holidays. I can just hear my granny saying, "This is what happens when you don't send the barrel early, before Christmas". The wait is usually worth it though. There may very well be food for the Christmas dinner and some new threads to ring in the holiday in style.
1. Wagga Wagga Christmas Dinner
It's obvious that Jamaicans prepare some of their most delicious meals at Christmas. Additionally, there's an abundance of food and this is most noticeable in the serving of the meat. Almost every kind of meat that Jamaicans love is prepared for Christmas celebrations. Usually the goat that has been fattened all year is sacrificed just for this occasion, stewed into a delicious curry often accompanied by manish water (goat meat) soup. The meal may also include baked ham, fried chicken, escoveitch fish, and more. Whatever the meat, a lot of pre-preparation goes into this meal served to a large extended family. After all, the best thing about a Jamaican Christmas is the food.