Despite the lack of snow and chimneys in Jamaica, Santa Claus still visits children, and gift giving is part of the Christmas traditions. Radio stations start playing Christmas carols early, some as early as October. As Jamaica is the home of reggae music, they play reggae remixes.
Decorating also starts up early. Houses are painted festive colors, Christmas lights, called “pepper lights”, are strewn about neighborhoods, towns, and trees, and elaborate ornaments, curtains, table cloths, and place settings deck the homes. Locally grown Blue Mountain pines make a good alternative to the typical Norwegian pines found in more northern climates. Poinsettias are so popular in the decorating that they need to be pre-ordered months in advance.
Christmas concerts, parties, and balls are very popular leading up to Christmas Day and can be found virtually anywhere; community centers, city squares, and even at churches. Many of these will last until the break of day.
The biggest of all these festivities by far is the Grand Market. From Christmas Eve until Christmas morning, vendors gather together in every town to sell last-minute gifts, toys, decorations, clothing, and lots of food in a party atmosphere. The real fun begins at sunset; the music, dancing, and partying goes on all night, keeping the shoppers well entertained. The best Grand Market is found in Linstead, St. Catherine.
Another tradition, John Canoe, or Jonkanoo, a masquerade procession, came to Jamaica from their African ancestors. Once a popular tradition across the island, it’s more confined to rural areas nowadays.
Jamaica has more churches per square mile than any other country in the world, and as such Christmas is one of the island’s most important celebrations. Following the Grand Market, many people will attend a midnight mass service. Others will continue parting all night, and attend a Christmas Day morning service instead. Church goers put on their Sunday best and celebrate with carol singing, hand clapping, and reggae versions of Christmas songs.
The traditional Christmas Day breakfast includes ackee, saltfish, breadfruit, fried plantains, boiled bananas, and some freshly squeezed fruit juice or tea to wash it all down with. Dinner is typically served in the late afternoon. The main courses are curried goat, pork, chicken, and oxtail, all served with rice and gungo peas. The more affluent families include ham and imported turkey. For dessert, there’s the seasonal favorite drink sorrel and the Jamaican Christmas Cake, for which fruits are soaked in red wine and white run for months before Christmas.
On Boxing Day, December 26th, the National Pantomime performance of The Upsies and de Downzies Dem by the Little Theatre Movement has been an annual celebration of Jamaican culture, folklore, and history since 1941. And in the evening, be sure to catch the famous dancehall show Sting.