Jamaicans love Christmas time but not for all the lights, decorations and shopping. Food and drink is at the center of a Jamaican Christmas, with family reunions and catching up over a huge meal playing a huge part in the celebrations. Many things have changed in Jamaican culture over the years, but the traditions that make the season enjoyable still hold strong.
- Curried goat – Early in the year, a ram goat is selected, dutifully cared for and fattened for his judgement day on December 25. On Christmas morning as the sun peaks out, the rammy will be marched to the slaughterhouse. Apart from the huge pot of curried goat, the animal’s entrails will make a hearty soup called mannish water.
- Christmas Ham – For many Jamaicans, Christmas is not complete without a delicious leg of roasted ham. Heavily seasoned and marinated, it goes into the oven early Christmas morning and makes its grand entrance to the table dressed in an assortment of cherry and pineapple decorations. People have been known to take ‘washout’ (laxative) for this.
- Gungo peas – Also known as pigeon peas, these come into season 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 and rice.
- Sorrel – This is ultimate Jamaican holiday drink. The sorrel plant is ready for harvest in late November to early December, exactly what many Jamaicans have been waiting for all year. The rich red bud of the plant is steeped with ginger in hot water for several hours and usually requires lots of sugar to sweeten. Some folks add rum to preserve the drink to enjoy after Christmas or just to add zing to the taste. Whatever the preference, a tall glass of ice cold sorrel is the must have ‘wash dung’ to accompany the Christmas dinner.
- Christmas cake/pudding – A delicious fruit cake with loads of dried fruits and saturated with wine and/rum. It makes the perfect snack throughout the holidays and is the only acceptable dessert after the Christmas meal. Every home is expected to have this even if you have to buy it. You’re not considered a good host if you don’t offer guests a slice.
About the Author
Denise Clarke is a freelance journalist based in Kingston, Jamaica. She has written for print and online newspapers in Jamaica, Barbados, and the British Virgin Islands. Email her with feedback at [email protected].