Any Jamaican household would be remiss in its preparation of a quintessential Jamaican Christmas without this drink on its table. Jamaican sorrel, Hibiscus sabdariffa, is an annual shrub that, when conditions are suitable, reaches maturity by December. It is made by soaking the fruit in hot water and ginger for about ten to 24 hours, after which the beverage is sweetened to taste. In the past, the infamous Jamaican White Rum was an ever present ingredient in this drink, but for many that ingredient has now been relegated to an option based on preference. It is important to note that Jamaican scientists, believed to be driven by their love of the drink, found a way to grow this plant all year round, thereby providing a continuous supply of Sorrel, and for that Jamaicans are grateful. Making this on your own for the first time can be daunting; thankfully, you do not have to take that route, as Sorrel is available in the majority of supermarkets across the island.
In this item, the Jamaican White Rum makes another appearance. The Jamaican Christmas cake is so heavily steeped in white rum that children are often not allowed to have it. Though, given enough begging and pleading, parents generally capitulate and grant the child a small piece. This cake is eaten not only on Christmas Day but throughout the season and often into the New Year. It may also be given as a gift to family and friends. This cake can be purchased in many bakeries and supermarkets across the island.
This event, colloquially referred to as ‘Gran’ Market,’ begins on Christmas Eve and goes into the early hours of Christmas morning. It is generally held in all major towns and cities across the island and enchants everyone, young and old. In many places, by early afternoon on Christmas Eve, activities slowly come to a halt as many individuals go home to be with their families. This is not the case in Jamaica. Though many corporate establishments do close, the streets of Jamaica come alive. On Christmas Eve, everybody comes out for a round of last-minute shopping, fun, and entertainment. In most areas the streets are cordoned off and the vendors and shoppers take over. Music fills the air, street food is available, and more often than not, impromptu street dances occur. Many take advantage of the opportunity to socialize with family and friends until the wee hours of Christmas morning; that is, if they are in it for the long haul. For many, Grand Market is the highlight of the Christmas season and often one of the most treasured memories of childhood.
Ham, Gungo Peas, and Rice
The culmination of all things red, green, gold, and Christmas-y is Christmas Day. The highlight of Christmas Day is Christmas dinner. For many Jamaicans, Christmas dinner is not complete without the requisite ham, decorated with pineapples and cherries and gungo peas (also known as pigeon peas) and rice. There will be other meat and side options on the table, of course, but these are the proclaimed stars of the evening, and every effort is made by families to put them on the table.
Christmas Day is often quiet as many people stay home with family, visit with friends, or go to church. Jamaica also has a prevailing party culture, so you will find that some individuals wile away the night at some event or the other. The next time you are in Jamaica during the Christmas holiday, take the time to participate in these time-honored traditions and perhaps, in the process, make some new ones of your own.