Jamaican Christmas Traditions

In Jamaica, we have no snow or anything that resembles it, but the weather does get a little cooler at Christmastime and we start feeling what we call “Christmas Breeze” by late November.

Jamaicans love to party, so the festivities start with office parties and move into friend and family gatherings as it gets closer to Christmas. Like any other nation, we have a host of traditions, but I’m going to share five of them with you today.

Household Cleaning

While some folks like spring cleaning, all Jamaicans do a general cleaning before putting up Christmas decorations. Some still take this tradition to the extreme and stay up late putting the house to rights on Christmas Eve. These people wake up exhausted on Christmas morning, which is no fun.

Drawing “Sorrel”

Sorrel is a deep burgundy drink that comes from a herbaceous plant in the Polygonaceae family. The petals of the plant are reaped and steeped in hot water to release the flavor and color. The drink is sweetened with sugar and rum and spiced with pimento seeds. It’s slightly tangy and takes a little getting used to, but sorrel is one of the staples at this time of the year. While it’s available year round, most Jamaicans only indulge at this part of the year.

Sorrel drink and sorrel petals


We don’t see this much anymore (and with good reason, I’d say) but Jonkanoo “characters” dress up in scary costumes and frighten the bejeezus out of kids. It’s part of the legacy of slavery and among the “actors” there is the devil and the horse head. This makes me wonder if it was a way of keeping children in order and determining who’d been good or bad leading up to Christmas. Needless to say, no child I know ever liked this part of the festive traditions.

Grand Market

On Christmas Eve, street vendors have a legal right to ignore vending zones and fill certain streets in each town with their wares. All of this takes place under the guidance of the parish councils, but on this one night, they are allowed to sell their goods into Christmas morning. Kids love Grand Market as parents get to do last-minute shopping and may give in to requests to buy this or that toy in the last-minute rush.

The Christmas Feast

Most people who don’t go to church in any other season, go at Christmas and Easter. The rest of the day is spent preparing the ham, rice and peas, vegetables, and a variety of meats. Earlier in the month, the decision is made on which family member will host in the current year and every relative descends on that house to eat up a storm.

These are some of the activities that take place in this part of the world. Of course, there is the exchange of gifts and people are kinder and gentler than at any other time of year. Would that we’d continue this sentiment all year long!

Have you ever been to the tropics at Christmastime?

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