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!

Attend Church in Jamaica

Spanish Town Jamaica Cathedral

The Cathedral of St Jago de la Vega (also known as the Spanish Town Cathedral and St. James Cathedral), is the oldest Cathedral in the Colonial Empire. After the conquest of Jamaica by the British in 1655, the British destroyed the Catholic Church that stood here and replaced it with the Anglican Church. In 1712, the church was destroyed by a hurricane, but rebuilt in 1714, making it 300 years old in 2014. It also has a tower, originally built in 1760 but replaced in 1817. It contains a collection of 18th century John Bacon sculptures.

For many of us around the world, Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day are associated with going to church. After all, we say "Jesus is the reason for the season," right?

By all means, attend a church service in Jamaica if you're in the island during the holidays. God knows, there are plenty of them! (Some say 1,600+!)

At one time, Jamaica may have held the Guinness Book of World Records' title for having more churches per square mile than any other country. I don't know if this is still true, but what I DO know is that there are churches EVERYWHERE in Jamaica.

Even small communities have multiple churches to serve their populations. Windsor Castle in the far western end of Portland Parish has 5 churches within just 1 square mile. Black River in St. Elizabeth Parish has at least 13 churches serving a population of about 5,000!

Sundays are a big deal for most Jamaicans. Many have childhood memories (or nightmares) of their mamas dragging them out of bed at the crack of dawn to bathe, dress up, and start walking to get to church on time, only to sit for hours in the heat through Sunday School, choir practice, scripture readings and more! Men are expected to wear shirts and ties, and ladies dress to the nines, with elaborate hats and their dressiest clothing.

Feel free to attend a church service at Christmas and enjoy a rousing gospel choir, but be sure to dress properly! Most churches will welcome you. It's sometimes easier to talk to the Jamaicans you meet and ask them to direct you. But please don't be the cause of someone losing their job. Most of the all-inclusive resorts prohibit employees from escorting guests off the property - to church or anywhere else.

Here's an interesting article at JamaicaMyWay about Kristi Keller's church experience in Jamaica, and below is her excellent video:

RELIGION IN JAMAICA: Religion is fundamental to the lives of most Jamaicans. You hear references to God (Jah) and the Bible in their everyday speech and in their music. Most are Christians; the largest denominations are the Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, Brethren and Roman Catholics. But Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Baha'i, and many others are well-represented. If not, you'll likely find Jamaicans erecting a tent for a pop-up service when necessary!


Christ Church (Port Antonio Parish Church) built in 1836.

Here are a few interesting facts about religion in Jamaica from diGJamaica.com:

  • The Church of England (Anglican) was established in Jamaica seven years after the capture of the island by Admiral Penn and General Venables in 1655. It is the oldest continuous religious presence on the island and has its historic centre at the Cathedral of St Jago de la Vega in Spanish Town.
  • The first church to be built on the island was commissioned by Christopher Columbus’ son, Diego, in St Ann’s Bay in 1510.
  • The Baptist presence in Jamaica began in 1783 when George Liele, a "free black slave" from Atlanta, Georgia, came to preach in Kingston. Sixty-six years and much missionary work later, the Jamaica Baptist Union was founded at Falmouth, Trelawny in 1849.
  • The first Ethiopian Orthodox Church was founded in Jamaica on Labour Day, May 26, 1971. The church is, however, a part of one of the oldest extant denominations of Christianity in the world.
  • The Seventh-Day Adventist faith is the biggest denomination in Jamaica, with more than 250,000 members worshiping in more than 650 congregations island-wide.

RELIGION AND SLAVERY: The religion of the slaves was based on African beliefs and practices, such as ceremonial spirit possession, spiritual healing, sorcery, and drumming and dance as forms of worship. Kumina and belief in obeah (sorcery) are living survivors of the African heritage.

The Anglicans (the church of the planter class) played a significant role during the slave period to maintain order on the island and squelch discontent, but they were largely ignored by the slaves. Missionization by Moravians, Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians began in 1754. The Baptists were particularly noted for being abolitionists and fueled many of the slave uprisings that eventually led to emancipation in 1834. After emancipation, many former slaves remained Baptists.

For more about slaves and religion in Jamaica, read this fascinating article at Jamaicans.com.

If you don't make it to church in Jamaica at Christmas, or you're just not very religious, please schedule a tour or visit some of the island's beautiful churches on your own. There's so much history and beautiful architecture to enjoy.

Falmouth Parish Church of St Peter the Apostle

Falmouth Parish Church of St Peter the Apostle, built 1795

Aside from Christ Church in Port Antonio (pictured above), here are just a couple of my favorites:

  • St. Mary's Church Lucea, Hanover (Hanover Parish Church), on Fort Charlotte Drive, Lucea - One of Jamaica's oldest churches, St. Mary's was built in the early 1700s. Although no exact date exists, the first baptism record dates back to 1725, the first burial was in 1727, and the first marriage in 1749. It is said that there is a tunnel that leads from the church to nearby Fort Charlotte, which was a safe haven in time of war.
  • St. Andrew Parish Church, Hagley Park Road, Half Way Tree, Kingston - Named after the apostle, Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, the Anglican church was established in 1664, four years after the British captured Jamaica from the Spanish. It settled in its current location in 1700. It's been renovated several times. The cemetery is one of the oldest in continuous use in Jamaica and contains the graves of many prominent Jamaicans.
  • Falmouth Parish Church of St. Peter the Apostle, Duke and King St, Falmouth, Trelawny - Built in 1795, this is the oldest public building in Falmouth and one of the largest Anglican churches in the island. Graves spanning over two hundred years can be found in the churchyard.

Go to church in Jamaica and feel all right!



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