Christmas Celebration in Jamaica at a Glance

In Jamaica the Christmas season is always a time of grand celebration. The holiday spirit begins as early as the third week in November and continues through Christmas Day. The Reggae versions of popular Christmas songs such as “Let Christmas catch you in a good mood,” “Give Love on Christmas Day,” “Christmas in the Sun” and “Christmas Jamaican Style” blare from speaker boxes on street corners and on radio stations throughout Jamaica. Traditional Christmas songs including “Silent Night, Oh Holy Night,” and “O come all ye faithful” are also heard. The celebration of Christmas is a European influence, particularly English. Its practices and customs were adopted by enslaved Africans.

 

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries enslaved Africans were granted several days off by their masters beginning on Christmas Day. During that period celebrations began on Christmas Eve.  On the plantation the enslaved gathered food items and received meat and wine from their masters. Dances were held through the night until Christmas morning. Celebrations continued with Jonkonnu (masquerade) festivals – an array of characters including “Jaw-Bone or House John Canoe,” “Jack-in-the Green” and “Koo-Koo or Actor-Boy

in bands who danced to drum and fife music and wore masks and elaborate headdresses, going from house to house as they sang and performed. There were carnival-like celebrations as parades of women known as the “Set girls” led by their leader called “Queen or Maam” attracted attention in the towns with their exquisite attire usually in blue and red. Every year the women vied to outdo each other as they swore their seamstresses to secrecy regarding the details of their designs.Another form of Christmas celebration was the Burru masquerade, an African influencedpractice and custom with drumming and singing. The lyrics of Burru music came exclusivelyfrom community gossip and the retelling of the year’s events sung by the musicians, who would go through the community stopping at various points along the way.

(Set Girls Picture Courtesy of forward.com)

Grand Market or Gran’ Market is also a very important celebration which is a day and night affair in every Parishes, where thousands of people would go shopping with their children and close friends, vendors selling all sorts of items like foods, toys and clothing and the sound of music everywhere until morning.

Christmas dinner is a major feast and comprises various foods such as manish water, beef, ham, chicken, gungo peas and rice, roast pork just to name a few. These are just some of the many mouth watering dishes traditionally had at Christmas time, along with the popular refreshing drink made from the sorrel plant with ginger and Christmas cake or pudding.

References:

Cassidy, Frederic G. Jamaica Talk: Three Hundred Years of the English Language in Jamaica.

London: Macmillan Education Ltd., 1961.

Monteith, Kathleen E.A. and Glen Richards, eds. Jamaica in Slavery and Freedom: History,

        Heritage and Culture. Mona, Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2002.

Ranston, Jackie. Belisario Sketches of Character: A Historical Biography of a Jamaican Artist.

Kingston: The Mill Press Limited, 2008.

Baxter, Ivy. The Arts of an Island: The Development of the Culture and of the fold and Creative

       arts in Jamaica 1494-1962 (Independence).  Metuchen, New Jersery: The Scarecrow Press,

Inc. 1970.

Lewin, Olive. “Rock it Come Over” The Folk Music of Jamaica: With special reference to

        Kumina and the work of Mrs Imogene “Queen” Kennedy. Mona, Kingston: University of

the West Indies Press. 2000.

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