What comes to mind when you hear the words ‘Jamaican Christmas?’ Is it the food – ham, sorrel and fruit cake? Or the music – Breadfruit roasting on an open fire? Or is it the old time traditions like Jonkunnu or Christmas morning church services? Maybe all of the above?
Although things and times have changed, these are still some of the hallmarks of what the Yuletide season in Jamaica. Those of us who call this little rock home still get to experience these things every year, but our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora only have the memories (if they emigrated as teens or adults) and the stories from their elders (if they emigrated as small children or were born in their parents’ adopted homelands.) This year, as part of our 12 Days of Christmas series, we reached out to members of the Diaspora on social media and asked them to share some of their memories with us. Here are some of their stories:
Kimone Insang, Florida
As I approach my eighth Christmas as a Jamaican in “foreign,” I am prompted to think of the defining elements that I miss the most about Christmas in my homeland. It is difficult to say I miss the food; having spent five years in South Florida, I have always enjoyed easy access to all the foods I enjoy. In fact, I have been fortunate enough to grow my own sorrel and gungo peas in my backyard. What I miss the most, then, are the intangibles: the change in the atmosphere as Christmas approaches, the palpable excitement as my family and neighbors begin the annual clean-up and renovations of their homes; the general busyness as higglers ply you with goods you never knew existed, much less knew you needed.
Most of all, I miss the excitement of Christmas Eve. Here, you often find yourself working on Christmas Eve, with Christmas Day being the focal point; unlike back home, where Christmas Eve would be spent partying with friends. And how can one forget the annual broadcasting of “Greetings from Across the World” from my fellow Jamaicans abroad? There is more energy and excitement involved in Christmas and Christmas preparations in Jamaica. While I enjoy my holidays in my adopted country, there’s no place like home.
Danielle Grant, Boston
My first winter was crazy. I remembered the first time I saw snow. I turned to my father and said, “what is that white thing coming from the sky?” I heard about snow, but was unsure how it was going to happen. It took me by surprise. I did not understand the temperature, so there were days I dressed like it was summer with a little jacket because I saw the sun, but when I went outside forget it! I had to return and change into clothes conducive to the weather. My hands became frozen one day and I tried to defrost with hot water and I felt nothing (LOL). Emotionally, it was hectic because you are inside most of the times staring at walls and when I remembered the breeze and warm sunshine, I was depressed. There’s no Grand Market; the festivities are different. Now, I’m adjusted somewhat, but haven’t got used to the cold.
Re-Keisha Hibbert, Japan
I haven’t enjoyed a Jamaican Christmas since 2008. I had hoped to be home this year, but my husband and I couldn’t secure affordable tickets for the trip home from Japan where we currently reside.
Oh, how I miss Christmas at home! Mommy’s cake and the dinners we’d have with the family. The smoked ham was one of my favorite dishes! I have baked Christmas cake about three times since I’ve been here. The very first time I baked it was the first time doing it on my own. Sadly, it got a bit burned. But it did taste good yuh si! The second time at it was much better. I even baked it for a New Year’s party event in my community.
There’s no place like yaad to experience Christmas. It’s especially so since the day here isn’t even a holiday. While it is possible to see beautiful Christmas illumination in places like Tokyo, it is generally pretty much an ordinary day here. But I think that even without illuminations and Christmas trees, Jamaica just has that Christmas feeling. I don’t know what it is. Perhaps it’s the Christmas breeze. Perhaps it’s being able to look forward to Grand Market. I’m not sure, but that wonderful feeling that the season usually brings is just not there. And this is something I’ve heard many people living overseas express. Nuh weh nuh betta dan yaad yah man! I’ll miss yet another Christmas, but one day I’ll be able to come home for the holidays. In the meantime, I just have to try to create the Christmas feeling myself.
Melisha Fultz, Oklahoma
I landed in the US two days before Christmas and as soon as I was greeted by the frigid air, it became apparent that my Christmas experience in Jamaica and my new home were going to be polar opposites. One standout was the lack of communal activities. I found it ironic that in a country where everything was accessible – I mean everyone one close by, one would bump into neighbors daily but everyone was so distant and well… so cold. I grew up in rural St Ann where a day would not pass without friends checking to see if I was okay. Imagine the sadness that crept through my bones when Christmas arrived and I wasn’t awakened by “Chris’mus!” followed by the aromas of food dancing through the air.
Not to be outdone though, the US outshines Jamaica in how commercialized Christmas has become, unless things have changed since I left. Throughout the holidays, department stores and websites target our pockets- it appears it’s a game to see who spends the most money during the holiday season. At first I was annoyed, now I find it quite humorous. My husband and I now play games and high-five anytime “church,” “Jesus” or anything about the Advent is mentioned.
Being away from family and a familiar culture does have its benefits. I have started my own traditions and have taken pieces from both worlds which I hope I will pass on to future generations. I enjoy driving through various neighborhoods to view the lighting displays and I still cook Christmas dinner. I haven’t had fruit cake since leaving Jamaica though. I’m not begging but…umm…please?
Dex-Ann Brown-Grant, New York
I miss the festivities: going to grand market, baking the cake, eating the cake, going to church. Everything was just so much better there. As soon as December rolled around, Daddy would always go out and gets us a nice pine/Christmas tree for decorating. Even though he was always complaining that it messed up the house when the needles fall off, he still brought that tree home for me to decorate.
Look out for more memories and stories next week! If you would like to share your own story, feel free to drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.