As we draw near to the festive season, I think it is a fitting time to share traditions of Christmas in the Caribbean. Being from Jamaica, I have such vivid memories of the holidays. Now that I live in Barbados, and have also worked extensively in Antigua and Saint Lucia, amongst other islands in the Caribbean, I realize that all of our islands share quite similar heritage with their Christmas festivities. Perhaps it is the similarity of our origins or the movement of our people, but the holiday traditions carry throughout the region. Either way if this is your first or your fiftieth Christmas in the islands, we are certain it will be a special experience. “I thought let me share some antidotes and traditions with you to get you ready for your holiday celebrations”! In the Caribbean we cannot boast “that it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas” (since of course we have never seen snow on our islands) however, from the end of November it definitely begins to smell and sound a lot like Christmas. There are breezes in the air (that we call Christmas breeze), the fragrant smells of Frangipani, the raisins and currants for Traditional Caribbean Christmas Pudding being soaked in our delicious island rum along with Sorrel crops (a perennial herb ), that have come into bloom in anticipation of making our traditional Caribbean Christmas cocktail. It can be served straight or how I like it, with a shot of rum! Let me share the recipe for Sorrel so that as you get to your Blue Sky Luxury destination, you can ensure the executive team at your villa has all the ingredients on hand to make you some sorrel!
454 grams or 1 pound of sorrel
2-4 ounces ginger
2 quarts water
8-12 pimento grains
- 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.
The other Christmas tradition in Jamaica, that truthfully used to terrify me as a child, was during Jonkanoo (or John Canoe), which is a traditional Christmas celebration where revelers parade through the streets dressed in colourful masquerade costumes. Traditionally, men wearing white-mesh masks play characters which include the horned cow head, policeman, horse head, wild Indian, devil, belly-woman, pitchy-patchy, and sometimes a bride. Picture me at ten years old running from devil and cowhead in complete terror as they run behind doing their dances of joy while I try to hide behind my mother! 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 thirty years ago, Jonkanoo is still a tradition in rural Jamaica.
The other big thing about Christmas in the Caribbean is that it is not only celebrated on December 25th but rather a season of fellowship and merriment among family and friends, which usually involves a lot of food! Again as a child, Christmas began with Midnight Mass and yes there are many services of every denomination that visitors to the Caribbean can participate in. Check with Blue Sky Luxury Concierge and they will be able to point you in the right direction.
Generally on Christmas morning, after the presents have been opened it is time to hit the road to various homes – that’s if your home was not appointed for “open house” that year. I can remember going to four Christmas day family events which started with a Christmas breakfast, lunch, and TWO dinners! The breakfast feasts usually include the Jamaican national dish of Ackee and Saltfish, Mackerel rundown, boiled bananas, and Jonny cakes* these are flatbreads which are fried flour – served with hot melted butter the middle! (YUM) the name is derived from the word journey cake.* Christmas lunch or dinner is a big feast for island people and includes chicken, oxtail, curry goat, roast ham and rice and gungo peas. Gungo peas is a Christmas specialty in Jamaica, as they only usually ripen in December. Throughout the rest of the year cooks use red peas with the rice. Jamaicans also prepare roast beef and pork. Then let us not forget the side dishes which include, but are definitely not limited to, Candide Sweet Potato Pie (my favourite) baked with brown sugar and melted marshmallow top, Macaroni Pie, Broccoli and Cheese pie (I guess we added this dish to ensure that we had at least one veggie on the table!) and not to be overlooked fried sweet plantain. Right now my mouth is watering as I am thinking just 27 days till I get to feast!!!! So once you hit our shores be sure to discuss the menu with your capable villa chef and mention some of my favourites – do let us know which ones you enjoy.
Beyond the food though, it is the merriment that is even more memorable … there have been so many times in our traditional Jamaican Christmas when our family is gathered around and someone heads into the kitchen for instruments to go along with the guitar that my uncle played. We would grab the pot covers for drums, a grater for percussion and crystal glasses with silverware for cymbals and the band would break out in our version of Caribbean Christmas songs. These usually include traditional Christmas music such as,” We wish you a Merry Christmas”, “The little drummer boy” or the crowd favourite “Feliz Navidad” – all with a reggae beat!
Wherever your travels take you this Holiday Season we hope it is to one of our islands. If you’re making it Jamaica, be sure to check out one of the Blue Sky Luxury’s signature homes such as, Flower Hill or Point of View. I know that you will enjoy the holidays with your family at your home away from home. Whatever your pleasure we trust that you will eat, drink and be merry and make fantistic Jamaican memories with the ones you love.
*They packed these flour cakes along the way as they were sure to fill you up and keep you satisfied along your travels … for in the old days when people had to journey around Jamaica (all 4244 of her sq miles and the third largest island in the Caribbean) in horse drawn carts, it could have taken days.