6 Dying Christmas Traditions
by Sheree-Anita Shearer | Associate Writer
Photo: Jonkonnu Parade in Jamaica
As people grow, and their interests change, new traditions will emerge. While this isn’t always the case, sometimes this means old traditions will not be practised as frequently as before. For a Jamaican Christmas, there are a few of these traditions which are unfortunately on their way out or have already gone entirely.
- Jonkonnu - At the ripe old age of 22, I am pretty sure there aren’t many younger than myself who really know what Jonkonnu is- unless they were told about it by an older relative, community member or at school. Sometimes there are performances included in Emancipendence Galas and other celebrations but it is barely comparable to what it used to be.
In the past, the Jonkonnu parade was a must-see at Christmas time and the different characters would line the streets of both rural communities and towns across the island. But now, and this is quite a surprise for me. Jonkunu is mostly done in the two major cities, Kingston and Montego Bay. Usually, it is the other way around, where you see those in the rural areas having a deeper sense of tradition than those in urban areas, but in this case, the tables have turned.
While it is on a decline, there are a few community groups, youth clubs and associations that are trying to keep this aspect of our Jamaican tradition alive.
- Carolling - Christmas carolling used to be such a fun experience and while I have never actually gone carolling myself, I always enjoyed the visit from the carolers and singing along to the Christmas songs. A lot of this has changed though and not many people go carolling anymore. It's sad that many children may never be able to say they have had this heartwarming experience.
- Sending/receiving postcards - One thing you could always look forward to was a postcard from family members who live far away for Christmas. Sometimes it would include a Christmas family photo or a landmark from the country they are in. Even family members and friends who live next door to each other would sometimes exchange postcards. I always found it a little funny, but sweet nonetheless.
My great-grandmother’s house was lined with postcards from all her children and grandchildren to the point where she ran strings across the living room and verandah to hang them on as part of the Christmas decor. I guess with phones and social media you don’t need a postcard and a Christmas photo to catch up with loved ones anymore. However, I do miss getting the Christmas postcards.
- Christmas Decorations - Well I guess I can’t really describe this one as dying, but people are definitely not doing all they used to do. I notice that some people only do a tree and some lights in the living room, change the drapes and bed linen and add Christmas themed decor. Most houses don’t have decorations at all!
Putting up the Christmas lights could take days depending on the size of the yard. You would have to decorate both inside and outside the house, including trees, fences and roofs. There would even be stiff but good-natured competition between neighbours or communities to see who has the best decorations. All of that has since changed and most people just add simple decorations.
The tedious and time-consuming task of taking down all the lights and decoration plus the cost of the electricity bills at the end of the season does not help either. It almost makes it seem as if it isn’t worth decorating at all. While some people don’t I say kudos to those who still try to add a little decoration.
- Christmas Sunday/Sabbath - The weekend closest to Christmas Day would be the Christmas Sunday or Christmas Sabbath. Local churches are usually full because many people are visiting home for the holidays. Many churches would just make this day a homecoming of sorts and would include programmes well into the evening. There might even be a little programme in the night where you would go home, change into something more comfortable and head back to church for a social. This would involve games, food and catching up with old friends.
- Watchnight - The night before the new year finally rolls in, you would know where to find everyone. They would be at their local church. Jamaica has the most churches per square mile and even small communities have at least 2 churches. No matter how many churches are in the area, they would be filled with people waiting to ring in the new year. While now, many individuals and families still do go to watch night services, it isn’t half as much as before.
I think many of the changes now are due to how expensive a lot of these things have now become. Scaling back on decorations and just spending, in general, is important to not be overwhelmed by your responsibilities come new year. Additionally, many of us have to work right up to Christmas Day or for others even the very day is a workday still. Sometimes getting Christmas Day off is just a good day to catch up on some well-needed rest. For others, their belief systems change and Christmas is no longer a celebratory event, and that’s okay.
Either way, there are others, (like me) who still quite enjoy the holidays and the festivities and while we may not be able to partake in all the events it is good to mix in the old traditions with the new and have a wonderful Jamaican Christmas!
I also recommend you read, 11 Signs It's Almost Christmas in Jamaica
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