Christmas in Jamaica is not a whole lot different from Christmas elsewhere in the world, especially the US and the UK. But, as you would expect, there are some elements that cause a few challenges for us and some that are unique, making Christmas in Jamaica downright special.
Well, yes. Remember, we were resourceful enough to have a bobsled team at the Olympics although we don’t have snow; so, figuring out Santa Claus was just plain easy. We have goats galore and a few deer that escaped from an attraction after a hurricane and now wreak havoc with the farmers; but, we have no reindeer. Just a handful of homes have fireplaces with chimneys. Yet, we still manage to have Santa Claus who sports a white beard and a red suit and says, “Ho, Ho, Ho!”
Kids clearly don’t think of him coming down a chimney or flying in on a reindeer. And, that’s fine. In Jamaica, Santa could easily ride a bicycle or drive a pick-up truck or even a Lexus! We just go with it for the sake of our kids.
Generally, Santas are at stores or malls collecting money for the Salvation Army. Often they are giving gifts to children in local hospitals thanks to the support of civic organizations.
Many Jamaicans do exchange Christmas gifts, especially for children. The idea of the “Naughty or Nice List” does work wonders with Jamaican children, just as it does elsewhere in the world.
Christmas in Jamaica is just special. The air changes with the Christmas season. There is a crispness in the air which every Jamaican recognizes and acknowledges as the Christmas breeze. It brings with it the anticipation and hopes for the season and the New Year.
Many people paint or otherwise decorate their homes in preparation for Christmas. Back in the olden days, people in the rural areas used to whitewash the walls around their homes, with limestone. This gave a very clean, bright white color. Just seeing the white washed walls or tree trunks would help to build the excitement of Christmas. Top that off with vivid red, or even white, poinsettia growing as a hedge and it was a sight to behold. Jamaicans love Christmas trees and lights, both in the town squares and in their homes; but, with the high price of electricity, the displays get more and more meager every year.
The music is festive and contributes to the feeling of happiness floating in the air. Christmas carols, both traditional and Jamaicanized versions, flood the airwaves. Concerts, both secular and religious, abound. Many churches have cantatas both for entertainment and for fundraising. Enjoy some Christmas music in reggae here.
And, this I can’t resist… Here is a link to perhaps one of the most popular requests on the local radio stations, and it isn’t even Jamaican. Listen to what Jamaican affectionately call Dear Nola. The proper name is Christmas Countdown.
The most anticipated day of the season is Christmas Eve, called Grand Market in Jamaica. Most people are out that evening. Even the infirm try to make it to the porch to enjoy the Christmas breeze. The towns are filled to the brim with revelers. Traffic is at a near stand-still from late afternoon in most towns, even in rural areas. Sometimes streets are closed to vehicular traffic.
People stay out late, even kids. This is when the stores and markets are open the latest throughout the year. Roasted peanut vendors bustle about on the streets with the familiar whistling sound coming out of the top of their carts. The music is blaring and lasts well into the night. No-one seems to remember about noise ordinances. Kids are running around with fee-fees, or noise-makers as they are called now. Sweets of all kinds including locally made pinda cakes (like peanut brittle), peppermint candy, and grater cakes made from shredded coconut are popular in the more rural towns. The ever-present jerk pans are going full force. The streets are vibrant.
Christmas Day itself is a total contrast to the day before. The streets, even in Kingston, are like ghost towns. People are not out and about. They are home or at someone’s home for Christmas dinner. There is early morning church service which is associated with the singing of Christmas carols. People don’t go caroling much anymore; but, the singing of carols goes on in churches. If you went a church service at Christmas time, you would most likely feel right at home because we do sing the same Christmas carols that you probably know, such as O Holy Night, Silent Night, and O Little Town of Bethlehem.
The day after Christmas, called Boxing Day, is a public holiday. Jamaicans tend to flock to the beaches and or relax with family.
Most stores are not open. Those that are open often have sparse shelves because people would have bought up a storm in preparation for Christmas. Reminder – get all your food shopping done before Christmas Day.
Boxing Day traditionally marks the beginning of the national pantomime season in Kingston. This is a play which is usually a musical comedy making satirical reference to Jamaican culture, folklore, as well as historical and or current events and politics. The costumes and sets are usually vibrant, creative and colorful. The dialog is primarily in Patois and without some local knowledge, it can be difficult for foreigners to follow along.
New Year’s Eve is a more toned-down version of Grand Market. Prepare for balls and galas and people bedecked in their finest. Many of these balls support charities. This is the evening when Jamaicans who want to be seen go out.
This is generally quiet as the holidays start winding down.
As Jamaicans become more modernized and influenced by Western cultures, some traditions are dying. Jonkunno is one of them. It is a parade of scary-looking but entertaining masqueraders, usually men, dancing to the sounds of drums and fifes. This used to be a widely anticipated event on Boxing Day.
Participants wear masks and costumes that are so scary that they could put any Halloween show to shame. The most common characters were the horned cow’s head, policeman, and the devil with the pitchfork. There was also Patchy Patchy, dressed up in rags. Another was Belly Woman, a man dressed up as a pregnant woman who whose belly would move to the music.
Jonkunno is now rarely seen in the city areas and is occasionally seen in the rural areas. It seems to be relegated to special cultural performances.
Generally, we don’t decorate the villa with a Christmas theme. We rent the villa to people from all over the world and want everyone to feel comfortable here, regardless of their religious background, or lack thereof.
In this time of political correctness, we avoid references to Santa Claus to not risk offending anyone. This is sometimes difficult for our staff to remember since Christmas is such an integral part of our culture.
If a guest wants us to get a tree for them, we can, if we have adequate notice. If you celebrate Hanukkah, bring your menorah. If you celebrate Kwanza, bring your kinara. All are welcome.
Regardless of religious beliefs, we create a very festive atmosphere for our guests. The beauty of our table settings is such that every day could be a celebration!
You bet there are! And there is a whole blog post, 6 Foods You Must Try for an Authentic Jamaican Christmas Dinner, to tell you all about it.
The holidays are a wonderful time in Jamaica … festive and centered around friends and family.
We invite you to get a group together and spend the holidays in Jamaica. Contact us 6-12 months in advance to make sure you will be lucky enough to snag the villa. It books up early for that time of year.
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‘Til next time.
Think and dream Jamaica!
Sherry, Darrell, and Darrian
Considering a visit to Jamaica with a group? Contact us today for more information about, Mais Oui Tennis & Spa Villa, our boutique 8-BR ocean view Jamaica villa rental experience in beautiful Discovery Bay, Jamaica. Perfect for multi-generational families and groups, retreats, and intimate destination weddings and vow renewals.
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Sherry & Darrell, owners of Mais Oui Tenis & Spa Villa in Discovery Bay, Jamaica, consider themselves unofficial ambassadors for Jamaica. They look forward to using their insider knowledge to help guests create priceless vacation memories. Feel free to say hi!