Jamaican Holidays
& Their Significance

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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.

Christian Holidays

  1. 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 before Lent.

    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 their sins.

  2. 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 day.

    Fish and bread are prepared from the night before (Holy Thursday) and enjoyed on Good Friday. Much of that has changed though.

  3. 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.

  4. 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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Secular Holidays

  1. 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!

  2. 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.[4] 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 projects.

    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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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” Day.

    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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