& Their Significance
Jamaican Holidays, contributed by Tracie Blake
We have ten (10) national holidays,
four of which are Christian holidays. These are Ash Wednesday, Good
Friday, Easter Monday and Christmas Day.
The other 6 are more secular
namely, Labour Day, Independence Day, Emancipation Day, National Heroes Day, New Year's Day and Boxing Day.
- Ash Wednesday
This Christian holiday is celebrated anywhere between February 4th and March 10th.
Ash Wednesday represents the first day of Lent and occurs 40 days
It is on a different date annually depending on which
date Easter falls. In some denominations ashes are
placed on the forehead and people kneel at the altar giving penance for
- Good Friday
Good Friday is celebrated on the Friday before Easter Sunday.
The Christian’s belief is that Jesus Christ was crucified on a Friday.
Traditionally, Jamaican families get together and go to church.
In some denominations, this worship is accompanied by a day of fasting.
In the past, no meals were cooked on this
Fish and bread are prepared from the night before (Holy Thursday)
and enjoyed on Good Friday. Much of that has changed though.
- Easter Monday
This is a continued holiday from Good Friday. It is a
Christian belief that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead on the
Monday. Hence, this day is also celebrated with a day of worship.
- Christmas Day
December 25th. Celebrated many places around the world, it
commemorates the birth of Christ- although many believe that it is not
necessarily his date of birth.
Christians observe it by going to church and spending time with
the family. Non-Christians have utilized this holiday as an opportunity
for families to get together.
More on Christmas in Jamaica here.
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- New Year’s Day
January 1st- This is a holiday that is celebrated throughout
most countries in the world. It is the first day of the year and is
usually celebrated with parties and fireworks.
Many Jamaicans celebrate it by attending church on new years'
eve, giving God thanks for the 'old year' and welcoming the 'new year'
at the stroke of midnight.
It is believed by some that whatever the 'new year' catches you doing, it will follow you for the entire year!
- Labour Day
Before 1961, May 24 was celebrated in Jamaica as Empire Day in honour of the birthday of Queen Victoria .
As its name suggests, the day was used to celebrate the British Empire and England,
complete with flag-raising ceremonies and the singing of patriotic songs.
But In 1961, Chief Minister, Norman Washington Manley proposed
the replacement of Empire Day with Labour Day, a celebration in
commemoration of May 23, 1938, when Alexander Bustamante led a labour
rebellion leading to Jamaican independence.
Until May 23, 1971, Labour Day was primarily a trade unions
celebration with public rallies and marches. On occasion, opposing
trade unions clashed on this day, so in 1972, Jamaican Prime Minister
Michael Manley promoted Labour Day as a showcase for the importance of
labour to the development of Jamaica, and a day of voluntary community participation to beneficial
Since then, Labour Day has not only been a public holiday, but also a day of mass community involvement around the country.
Read the history of Jamaica for more.
- Emancipation Day
August 1st- If you know anything about slavery, then you should
know that the abolition of slavery in the western world was perhaps the
most important achievement for many of our foreparents.
On 28 August 1833, the Slavery Abolition Act was given Royal
Assent, which paved the way for the abolition of slavery within the
British Empire and its colonies.
On 1 August 1834, all slaves in the British Empire were
emancipated, but they were indentured to their former owners in an
apprenticeship system which was abolished in two stages; the first set
of apprenticeships came to an end on 1 August 1838, while the final
apprenticeships ended two years later on 1 August 1840.
- Independence Day
August 6th. Pursuant to Emancipation Day, Jamaicans were still tied to the coattail of the United Kingdom.
We wanted more and had a desire to make our own decisions,
we needed our own identity. Another lobby was successful when Jamaica
gained Independence from the United Kingdom in 1962- August 6th, hence
this holiday. Read more in history of Jamaica.
- National Heroes Day
This holiday is usually celebrated on the 3rd Monday in October. The
celebration is geared towards honouring and lauding the efforts of our 6
heroes and 1 heroine.
They challenged the institutions of slavery, colonialism and dependency thereby changing the course of our history.
- Boxing Day
December 26th: In the olden days, the well-to-do persons in society would erect a box in Church and Civic Centres and the day after Christmas, they would place donations in the form of
gifts and money in this box.
The contents of the box were then given to the plantation workers
and the less privileged members of society. Hence, the name “Boxing”
Although the meaning may have changed a bit, the day is still
wildly celebrated in Jamaica, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and
many other members of the commonwealth.
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