Culture

10 Traditions Jamaicans Observe at Christmas time

Traditions Jamaicans Observe at Christmas time
Written by Joy L. Campbell

Every country has Christmas traditions which are passed down through the ages and in Jamaica, it is no different. Some customs have connections with slavery and others have developed along the way, in keeping with the changing times. Here are ten things Jamaicans do and experience over the Christmas season.

  1. Buying furniture – whether needed or not, some Jamaicans insist on getting new furniture to spruce up their homes and toast the season. New bedding, curtains, bath and kitchen mats are also on the list of must-haves for Christmas.
  2. Spring cleaning – The Jamaican version takes place during Christmas week, when householders go through every ‘crevice and corner’, rooting out all the unnecessary possessions that have accumulated during the year. In December, the garbage trucks run more frequently for this reason.
  3. House painting – If we don’t freshen the exterior and interior of our homes at any other time, this gets done during the festive season and goes well with all the pepper lights that are also strung.
  4. Walking the plazas – Leading up the Christmas Eve, even if we have no money to spend, persons young and old can be found ‘walking the plazas’. In Kingston, the usual area that shoppers cover stretches from South Avenue down to Half-Way-Tree, encompassing a wide variety of stores lining both sides of Constant Spring Road. Live Christmas trees line the sidewalk and buyers and vendors are always haggling over the best price.
  5. Grand Market – All major towns across the island have their variation of ‘Grand Market’ on Christmas Eve. This lasts all day and night and every item on a shopper’s list can be found on the streets. Major roadways are closed off and vendors have the freedom to operate in a ‘bend down plaza’ type setting. Parents go to Grand Market at their own risk because kids naturally will want everything in sight.
  6. Carol Services – These start from early December and are hosted by churches, schools and businesses. If you’re not a regular churchgoer, a carol service will bring to mind all your musical favourites and help you remember the reason for the Christmas celebration.
  7. Family & Friends Reunion – Many people have their reunion in December and each family has the task of bringing a particular dish for the food-fest side of things. In years gone by, in deep rural Jamaica, householders would cook and offer food to their neighbours. As part of this practice, some persons went from house to house eating all day long on December 25th.
  8. Jonkanoo – This tradition is no longer widespread in Jamaica, but many have fond memories of this folk band parading through the town with funny and scary characters, like Pitch-Patchy, Belly Woman and Horse Head. Only the bravest or ‘dry eye’ Jamaican children weren’t afraid of these characters, which are part of the legacy of slavery. These days, Jonkanoo is mainly incorporated in national celebrations, namely the Emancipation and Independence holidays.
  9. Christmas work – Gangs of casual labourers are part of the landscape at this time of year in communities and their work is funded by individual parish councils. These men and women have the task of bringing every bush, blade of stray grass, and weed under submission with machetes and whackers. They also give the landscape a spiffy look by whitewashing everything in sight, including sidewalks, tree trunks, and even boulders and stones along the roadways.
  10. Christmas Envelope/Bonus – No matter how regular or infrequent the service they provide, postal workers and garbage collectors leave their envelopes for householders to provide a tip for the year’s service. Even if we don’t tip out of appreciation, we give because it is in keeping with tradition. Office workers also look forward to their bonus to help with extras such as Christmas ham and baking, plus gifts for the family.

About the author

Joy L. Campbell

J.L. Campbell is an award-winning, Jamaican author who writes romantic suspense, women’s fiction, new and young adult novels. She has written sixteen books, seven novellas, and two short story collections. Campbell’s mission is to write stories that entertain and educate readers. She is also a certified editor, and writes non-fiction. Visit her on the web at http://www.joylcampbell.com