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Christmas is one of the most important festivals on the Jamaican calendar. This is a time for family reunions and spending time with loved ones, and the foods Jamaicans eat at Christmas are a big part of this important celebration. There are many traditions and conventions to be respected when planning Christmas meals in Jamaica and expectations are high.
Most visitors to a Jamaican home at Christmas will expect a glass or two of Jamaican sorrel, often accompanied by a slice of Christmas cake. This delicious crimson colored Christmas drink, made from the sepals of the sorrel flower, is Jamaica’s own version of mulled wine. The plant is essentially stewed with ginger and spices, then sieved when cooled. White rum is often added at the end.
To Jamaicans, the terms Christmas cake and Christmas pudding mean the same thing; a deliciously rich fruit cake. Packed with rum, it is a staple in most Jamaican homes throughout the festive season. The cake is packed with fruits that have been soaked in wine or rum, usually for weeks or months in advance. It is customary to offer a piece to visitors who drop by during the holidays, and to eat a big slice on Christmas Day.
Curried goat is a staple for most Jamaican households on Christmas Day. Often curried on the bone, this spicy goat dish is usually served with rice and gungo peas. Nothing of the goat is wasted; the animal’s entrails will make a hearty soup called mannish water that is noted for its aphrodisiac properties.
The traditional drink of egg punch is usually prepared by Jamaican mothers before church on Christmas Day. This Jamaican version of eggnog is so popular it can be purchased from supermarkets in cartons. One local variation includes the addition of Guinness Stout, lending a fortifying quality to this Christmas tradition.
Also known as pigeon peas, these come into season just in time for Christmas. They are used in the Christmas variation of that Jamaican staple rice and peas, the gungo peas replacing the usual red beans. Another popular dish is gungo pea soup, made with the bone of the Christmas ham. The soup is often served with dumplings as a Christmas treat.
For many Jamaicans, Christmas is not complete without a leg of roasted ham. Heavily seasoned and marinated, it goes into the oven early on Christmas morning and makes its grand entrance to the table dressed in an assortment of cherry and pineapple decorations. This is an expensive luxury in Jamaica that not every family will serve. The ham is usually the most popular item on the buffet table at Christmas parties.