Memories of Christmas in Jamaica

Memories do leave like people do; with apologies to the lyrics of a popular song..

As the years go by, and I age, I am not sure sometimes what is really a memory or what is what I would like to believe it was like.

I have now lived more years outside of Jamaica than I lived there. The many visits each year in no way makes up for maintaining my daily life outside of the island. The world has changed and everything has seemingly fused, in that trips back home are like an extension of life here in the US. Now, I think more and more of what it was like as a child.

There was a time it seems, that uptown and downtown did not have so much of a clear demarcation. I can remember that relatives from the country would visit relatives who lived below Crossroads especially at Xmas. After all, the shopping in the downtown area was the only one to be had, and December was an especially busy time.

Country living was ascribed to anyone living outside of Kingston proper, as suburban, was not yet a part of the vernacular. So better off country folks as well as poorer ones would spend time with city relatives to be closer to the festivities that came around in December.

There was a festive air surrounding downtown and the peddlers were a big part of it. Any and everything was to be had. It is hard to remember all that there was as the present day knickknacks have crowded out the memories, but I can vaguely remember that it was all new and exciting. After all, it was only at this time of year that trinkets and baubles of no real everyday use, abounded on the shelves of stores and on the tables of the sidewalk vendors.

It was also a time when pickpockets were to be feared. The furtive sellers of the infamous ‘washova gole’ trinkets were also to be feared in their own way. Their calling card was the ‘pssst’ sound, and their showcase was the handkerchief in which the ‘real gole’ chain, ring , ‘aisering’ or ‘chapparita’ was wrapped, affording you, the prospective pigeon, er, buyer, a quick glance.

But this was part and parcel of the Christmas shopping season. Some poor fool falling for the scam as well as to the fingers of the pickpocket, was also part of the season. It would not be Christmas shopping if the shout of “tief, stop tief, beg u hole him” did not ring out. The hot pursuit of said thief was also part of the fun of Christmas, albeit in a strange way. The arrival of ‘corpie’ to save him from the inevitable beating added to the atmosphere.

Jamaican crafts were still in vogue. Jamaican candies, cakes, cookie were still in vogue. Kuss-kuss water was the perfume to be found, not Obsession. Silver bangles were as desirable as any Gucci item is today. The cane man, cane juice man, gizzada, coconut cake sellers provided the things to snack on. It was a time to spend money on things not indulged in on a regular basis. It was also a time to be sounding cursed out by said vendors over pricing or quality of wares. It was a time to see who had relatives abroad who could send the wares that found their way on the sidewalks. The advent of higglers flying off to do free zone shopping was a thing of the then unthinkable future.

And it was time for the Jonkunnoo. I can vaguely remember that there was a parade in which they reigned supreme. People came specifically to watch them. It was a part of our culture even if we did not use that word at the time. It was something Jamaican. Something passed down that was ours and only ours, we thought. It had always been done from the time of slavery and it was close to our heart.

More than anything else downtown was a place that did not become deserted at dusk. It was not a place that only those who sought the cover of night, hung out. It was a place of merriment and good friendships and good fun. It was not just a place of burned out shells of buildings, or built up waste, putrid smells and adversity. Poverty was a part of it yes, but it was also a community and with that community, it was a place of life and living, and Christmas time was one time when it came alive indeed.


The specifics have all but faded but at least there is a memory and that memory brings a smile and a hankering for what was and seemingly will never be again.

About the author

Evanovitch H