Friday, December 16, 2005

The Jamaican Culture - A Jamaican Christmas

Christmas in Jamaica

I will always remember Christmas in Jamaica as a child. It was absolutely the happiest time of my life! I would be on holidays from school and, on several occasions, my parents would take me to Mandeville (the Capital of the Parish of Manchester) to do Christmas shopping.

Although I lived in St. Elizabeth, we did not do any shopping in Black River, which is the Capital of St. Elizabeth. This was because, in those days, Black River was a 'dead' town and Mandeville was much nearer to where we lived.

Because I was an 'only' child, I was kind of 'spoilt' by my parents and my Aunty Carol who lived with us. So, at Christmastime, I got much more toys and clothing than the average child would receive. My parents and Aunty Carol would buy me all kinds of 'goodies' for Christmas.

In those days, it was part of the Jamaican Culture for Jamaicans to wear 'Christmas hats' which were made from crepe paper and cartridge paper. These hats were in various shapes and sizes and were well decorated. The hats would each be adorned with the title of various popular songs and some of them would also have various phrases placed on them.

We would blow horns, light 'star light', fireworks, 'fire crackers' and 'thunder bolt'. The lighting of these items could be dangerous since they could cause fires.

The dogs certainly did not like Christmas since the noise from the fireworks, fire crackers and thunderbolt always frightened them! Jamaicans did not keep dogs in their houses but, during this time, like it or not dogs would try to find some way to get into the house. I use to be very sorry for these dogs!

The Jamaican stores would be filled with various items for Christmas and they would be well decorated.

The Jamaican sidewalks would be filled with people selling various Christmas items. This is normally illegal in Jamaica to be selling on the streets, but during Christmastime, people were allowed to sell on the sidewalks.

The Jamaican radio station (RJR and JBC) would be playing Christmas music and counting down to Christmas.

Our Christmas tree was always a real tree and this was decorated from the first week of Christmas. I always loved the smell!

Christmas Eve
In Jamaica, this day is also known as 'Grand Market' day. Parents would take their children shopping. This was an extremely special day for me. My parents and Aunty Carol would go to Mandeville to do some final Christmas shopping.

Giving at Christmas
My parents were always giving to the poor and Christmastime was very special! They always gave food and money to the poor in our community.

John Canoe
In Jamaica, Christmas was indeed very special for me. There was John Canoe - this is a band of people who dressed up in a variety of costumes and came out on the streets and danced. People would give them money for their performance. Some children were afraid of them but it was really a lot of fun!

Church on Christmas morning
Going to church on Christmas morning was a happy event for me. Christmas Carols would be sung and, after the service, some of the people from the church would visit homes and sing Christmas Carols.

Christmas Food
Yum! Yum! Yum! Jamaican food is certainly extremely delicious! Leading up to Christmas day, Jamaicans did a lot of preparation of food for Christmas. The following items were generally prepared ahead of Christmas day:

  • Christmas cake - This is certainly a part of the Jamaican Culture! It was made with various dried fruits soaked in wine and Jamaican white rum. You can see my wife's recipe in my next post. My wife is an excellent baker and she also decorates cakes. She has been baking and decorating for years. She now says that she has retired from baking!

  • Sorrel - This is a fruit that turns red at Christmas and is made into a drink. This fruit was grown by a lot of Jamaicans. Most Jamaicans love this drink. The sorrel leaves are picked from the pod, they are put in a large container, along with ginger and boiling water is poured on them. The mixture is then left to steep for about 2 days.

    The sorrel drink is then strained and sweetened with dark sugar. Cinnamon, red wine and some Jamaican rum are then added. This drink takes quite a bit of sugar to become sweetened.

  • Baked Ham – This is a staple on the Jamaican table at Christmas time. We use to cure our own pork leg at Christmastime. After the curing period was complete, the ham was boiled then put in the freezer until the day before Christmas. It was then taken out and baked at 350 degrees F. A meat thermometer was placed in the meatiest of the ham and it was allowed to bake until ‘Cured Pork’ was reached on the thermometer.

    We always used a thermometer when baking our ham since we wanted to ensure that it was properly cooked. After cooking the ham, the skin was taken off and the fat was 'cored' in squares. Pineapple juice and sugar were boiled (together) to make a glaze. This glaze was poured over the ham and it was returned to the oven for 20 minutes at 350 degrees F. It was then decorated with pineapple slices, cherries and cloves.

    NOTE: The skin of the pork was not thrown out, it was used as an added in the Jamaican Rice and Peas dish!

P.S..... Look out for my wife's Jamaican Christmas cake recipe in my next post!

'Til next time!


Anonymous said...

I am going to try this cake this christmas '06.

Anonymous said...

From 1960-1963 I was a lay teacher at Saint Mary's College, Above Rocks, St. Catherine Parish. The catholic priest there at the time was Fr. Sylvio Garavaglia, SJ. Both Fr. "Gary" and the swiss nurse who founded the health clinic, Louise Reimann, were Saints in my opinion and in the hearts and minds of her beloved friends in and around Above Rocks.
Having accidentally discovered your website, I promise to check in on you regularly; it is delightful and helpful in giving me a greater understanding of the culture I was immersed in for too short a time. My prayers and best wishes to all my former friends and studentsAboveRocks.

Anonymous said...

what you know about the real jamaican rumcake my moms a expert at making that people pay to bake it thats how good it is sometime she dont even take the money and she does it out of the sprite of christmas thanks for the imfo have a blessed christmas!!!

Russell Westphal said...

The sorrel souds good and I am going to make it this year.
Russell Westphal

Russell Westphal said...

the school sounds really fun to go to.

Anonymous said...

I am a first generation American in my Jamaican family. 18 yrs old and a man that wants to carry on the Jamaican Tradition in my family later on. I want to have ethnic foods for us to eat. Both my mother and father can cook good but never taught me and I'm glad that there are people like you to help me remember. I hope you will post more recipes.

Anonymous said...

It was a breath of fresh air to stumble on your website.Thanks for helping the young Jam-American to stay in touch with our culture and practices...we are way more than just music...not saying music is not important.Will check out your wife christmas cake,does she sell it via the web? I was home 2 christmas ago and was surprised to see how the Grand Market was still very alive in Kingston,we also drove around and checked out the light decor which was great!!!We are looking forward to checkout of the cold in a few week to spend christmas with our 82 year old mom and place our dad's tombstone.Looking forward to all my sibbling being together!!! Best wishes to you and your family and thanks again.

Anonymous said...

You are making me go back years been a child home with my grand mother baking, and just preparing for christmas. I have never done real christmas since am here. I now have a daughter and want her to see what our culture is like so I will be trying your wife's recipe and just reading your sight to do my ham. Thank you Sir. May you continue to do the good work and make God prosper you and your family.

Karl said...

It is so good to know that Jamaicans are allowing their children to experience the joys of the Jamaican Culture! Thank you for your kind words. A fi wi Country!

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