Jamaican Christmas cake, sorrel drinks, reggae Christmas carols, and Jonkanoo all part of the island’s holiday traditions
Kingston, Jamaica (November 29, 2004) – The Christmas season in Jamaica is the most festive time of year, filled with non-stop celebrations, special treats, entertainment, parties, festivals, and happy gatherings of friends and family. Although the island has never seen snow and its houses do not have chimneys, Santa Claus and his gifts are very much a part of Jamaica’s tradition, as are Christmas carols, such as “Oh Holy Night” and “Silent Night” - some can even be found in a reggae version.
During Jonkanoo (or John Canoe), a traditional Christmas celebration, revelers parade through the streets dressed in colorful masquerade costumes. Traditionally, men wearing white-mesh masks play the characters, which include the horned cow head, policeman, horse head, wild Indian, devil, belly-woman, pitchy-patchy, and sometimes a bride and house head, which was an image of a great house carried by the reveler on his head.
The parade and festivities probably arrived with African slaves. Although Jamaica is credited with the longest running tradition of Jonkanoo, today these mysterious bands with their gigantic costumes appear more as entertainment at cultural events than at random along the streets. Not as popular in the cities as it was 30 years ago, Jonkanoo is still a tradition in rural Jamaica.
The Grand Market (or Gran’ Market) is a community fair characterized by food, street dancing, crafts, and music. In the past, the weekend before Christmas and particularly on Christmas Eve, markets all over the island were set up with vendors selling small toys, firecrackers, balloons, and sweets of all kinds, including pinda (an African word for peanut) cakes, grater cakes, and peppermint sticks.
Traditionally on Christmas Eve some markets were decorated with streamers, large accordion-style bells, and balloons. People were decked out in fancy clothes, including bright hats purchased upon entering the Grand Market. Everyone came to town for Grand Market and the celebrations lasted throughout the day and night.
The Christmas season, which runs from mid-December to New Year’s Day, is usually the biggest family event of the year. Jamaicans celebrate by going to church, exchanging gifts with their families, and gathering for a large meal. Dinner on Christmas Day, the biggest feast for Jamaicans, includes chicken, oxtail, curry goat, roast ham, and rice and gungo peas. (Gungo peas, a Christmas specialty for Jamaica, usually ripen in December. Throughout the rest of the year cooks use red peas with the rice.) Jamaicans also prepare roast beef and/or pork as well. Another holiday specialty is Jamaican-style Christmas cake made of fruit soaked in rum.
The drink of choice for Jamaicans during the Christmas season is sorrel. Made from dried sorrel (a meadow plant), cinnamon, cloves, ginger, sugar, orange peel, and rum, the beverage is usually served over ice.
Try these recipes from Jamaicans.com to give your Christmas a Jamaican flare.
Wash the sorrel thoroughly, using the fingers to lift it from the water, and put it into a stainless steel container. Scrape, wash, and grate the ginger, then add it to the sorrel. Add the pimento grains. Boil the water, pour it over the sorrel mixture and allow it to stand four to six hours. Strain. Sweeten and add rum and wine to taste. Serve over ice.
Cream the butter, sugar, and browning until soft and fluffy. Sieve all the dry ingredients together. Beat the eggs and wine/brandy together and add to the creamed butter and sugar. Add fruits and then fold in the flour mixture, ensuring you do not over beat when mixing. Bake at 350°F for 1.5 hours. Yield: one 9-inch round cake.
For more information about Jamaica contact the Jamaica Tourist Board toll-free at 1-800-233-4582 or at (305) 665-0557 outside the United States.
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