Jamaican Christmas a Come! | Grand Market, Cake, Sorrel, Jonkunnu

Posted by on Dec 22, 2014 in Blog, Jamaican Culture, Jamaican Food | 0 comments

Jamaican Christmas a Come! | Grand Market, Cake, Sorrel, Jonkunnu
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Jamaican Christmas Traditions

What I enjoy most about Christmas - in Jamaica and at home - are the unique traditions in our cultures and histories that make us who we are, and that celebrate the things the season represents - family, faith, community, generosity and love. Jamaican Christmas traditions celebrate all of these things, but you'll have to look beyond the obvious!

If you're visiting Jamaica during the holidays, you'll probably find that today's Jamaican Christmas is nearly as commercialized as Christmas in the U.S., Canada and Europe. If you manage to escape from the all-inclusive resorts, however, don't expect to see as many Christmas lights, artificial snow, trees and other decorations as you might see at home. But be ready to eat, drink and be merry!

Jamaicans are predominately Christians, so the Christmas holidays are special. Many Jamaican Christmas traditions have British colonial influences, as well as African, Indian, Spanish, and other cultural influences that have given the nation its rich diversity. Some traditions, like Jonkonnu, have faded, but you may still see a performance here and there.

Here are a few a few things to look for and a little about the history/origins of each.

(Click on the numbered sections at the bottom to continue. You will see this introduction on every page, so please scroll down the page to keep reading!)

I wish you a Happy Jamaican Christmas!

Jamaican Christmas Cake

In anticipation of the Yuletide season, many Jamaicans will be busy soaking raisins, currants and prunes in Jamaican rum. They will use them to make their traditional Jamaican Christmas Cake, often called Jamaican Black Cake or Jamaican Fruit Cake, in early December.

No Jamaican Christmas season is complete without a Christmas cake and sorrel to drink (see next section). It's customary to have them on hand when guests drop by. Most households closely guard the recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation. You should find it everywhere in Jamaica at Christmastime.


Jamaican Christmas Cake or Jamaican Black Cake

This cake is not only popular in Jamaica, but throughout the English-speaking Caribbean, and has its roots in the region’s British Colonial heritage. It's a descendant of the English Christmas Pudding, or Plum Pudding, and has been a Jamaican favorite for over 300 years.

If you're thinking that you hate fruitcake, this version is nothing like those strange (and usually dry) fruitcakes we Americans joke about, with their neon-colored red and green cherries and other odd ingredients. This one is rich, dark, dense and moist!

Introduced to the West Indies by British planters in the late 1600s, and soaked in liquor to preserve them on sea voyages, the Christmas "pudding" was gradually tweaked by Jamaicans into the dark, spicy, red wine- and rum-soaked version we enjoy today.

The brown sugar, molasses and rum remind us that it was the British colonialists' quest for sugar, and the slave labor that harvested it, that kept them in the islands.

The differences between the British and Jamaican Christmas Cakes are the rum (the British usually used brandy), and the dark coloring of the cake, which comes from Jamaican "browning" (essentially caramelized (nearly burnt) sugar).

The cake is baked just before Christmas and eaten at Christmas dinner and afterward, in thin slices, for as long as it lasts. Just pour on a little more rum whenever the top gets dry, and Christmas Cake can last for months!

People from Trinidad, Guyana, Antigua, St. Lucia, and other Caribbean countries serve this cake at Christmas and on special occasions, and each country puts their unique spin on it.

If you're feeling nostalgic or just want to taste this delicious cake, try our recipe for Jamaican Christmas Cake. It's easier (and far more delicious) than you think! (And you don't HAVE TO start months ahead.) We also tell you how to make a version that's alcohol-free, if that idea interests you. (I'll stick with my Jamaican rum!)


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