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How Do Jamaicans Celebrate Christmas? | 10 Special Events In The Holiday Season

by Sheree-Anita Shearer | Associate Writer

Christmas Tree Lighting
Photo: Christmas Tree Lighting in Sam Sharpe Square

Christmas is an important holiday for Christians all over the world and just like every other country, Jamaica has its own ways to celebrate Christmas. While Christmas Day is the main event of the holidays, there are many special events leading up to and continuing after the day itself. Here are ten special ways we celebrate Christmas in Jamaica:
  1. Carol Service - This is a big event, usually at schools, where the children perform Christmas carols and plays based on the birth of Jesus. Family and friends are usually invited to watch the children as they perform on stage what they have been practising for months. The teachers and other staff members usually get involved as well and perform different skits and songs either with their class or as a group. There is usually a Christmas tree where gifts can be placed for children or the teachers. It’s always fun to search for your little gift under the tree. At the end of the service, everyone is served with Christmas cake and sorrel, which are two staples at Christmas dinner.

  2. Tree Lighting - As soon as December rolls in, you will see the decorations by the Municipal Corporation (parish council) in the capital town/city of the parish. The centre of the town is painted and decorated with wreaths, ribbons, flowers and the most important piece of decoration, the tree. The larger-than-life tree is visible from afar and in all directions. It is decorated with ribbons, lights, ornaments and a star at the top.

    The tree lighting ceremony is usually held on the first Sunday in December and everyone is invited to come. The tradition involves the “switching-on of the lights” by the mayor or other government officials. There is usually a fireworks display, carols, a Christmas speech by the officials and distribution of gifts. All throughout the season, groups and individuals take photos with the tree as the backdrop.

  3. Christmas Treat - The season is about giving back, and various community groups and churches have treats for the children and homeless people during this time. They provide food, drinks and dessert for the day. Articles of clothing, personal care items are provided for the homeless and toys or back to school supplies for the children.

  4. Church Service - In the true spirit of the season, church services are held various times throughout the holiday. Candlelight services, concerts and prayer meetings. Roman Catholic and Anglican churches have a special Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve which lasts through early Christmas Morning. Other denominations have their services on the morning of Christmas Day before going home to enjoy their family time. Members who are unable to attend these services due to immobility, get special visits and care packages.

  5. Grand Market - Gran’ Market is held on Christmas Eve and is the last day to shop for Christmas Day. Sellers flock to the towns and just about anything- including foods such as jerk chicken is sold on the roads. In many towns, the roads are closed to vehicular traffic to accommodate the many buyers and the sellers and their wares. There are also speakers and DJs playing music all over the town for entertainment while you shop. This usually lasts until the wee hours of Christmas morning.

  6. Christmas Dinner - The pinnacle of the holidays! This is a time for holidays and friends. Loved ones gather at one house, usually grandparents, parents or an aunt. Preparation for this day begins long before though. Having one dish on Christmas just does not capture how special the day is. The Jamaican staples, Curried Goat, Oxtail, Ham, Roast Beef and Chicken prepared in various ways, is accompanied by Gungo rice and peas, potato salad and other sides. For drinks, we have sorrel, rum punch and eggnog.

    The Christmas Fruit Cake, made with wine and mixed fruits (that have been soaking in wine since August for most people) is the dessert of choice for the day. After dinner, families and friends gather and play dominoes, discuss everything from current affairs to sports to family matters. It’s just overall a good time filled with family and friends.

  7. Boxing Day - This is just a continuation of the events of Christmas Day. Family and friends who spent the time with their immediate family visit extended family and have Christmas all over again. Also, those who had to work on Christmas Day, celebrate on Boxing Day instead. Many people visit the beach or any other attractions that are open.

    Jonkonnu Parade
    Photo: Jonkonnu Parade

  8. Jonkunu - This street parade is held throughout Christmas Week (December 25th to January 1st) showcases different characters all played by men. The King, Queen, Devil, Pitchy-Patchy, Bellywoman, Policeman, Bride and House-head, Cowhead, Horsehead, Wild Apache Indian go around the town and persons join in the festivities. Sometimes children are scared during the parade. This particular event is not as popular as before and is mainly done now in the major towns and cities.

  9. Watch Night - Watch Night is held at the Christian churches on New Year’s Eve. Prayers, concerts and other religious practices are performed. The service is to welcome in the new year and ask God for His guidance and protection in the year ahead.

  10. New Year’s Day - The season ends with New Year’s celebrations. This again is a time for family and loved ones. We celebrate the new year in different ways, church services, parties and family reunions.
These events sum up the festive season and Jamaicans are a festive people so you know it's an Irie Christmas when it's Jamaican Style.

I also recommend you read, Christmas in Jamaica The Fun & Exciting Jamaican Christmas Traditions.


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