By Carmen Glover
You can call be biased, but in my view, experiencing Christmas on the idyllic island of Jamaica is nothing short of tasting a slice of heaven on earth.
The rich Christmas tradition starts with extensive cleaning of the home, wiping the walls or painting them if it is deemed necessary, applying whitewash to the stones and trees in the yard, hanging new curtains and adorning the beds with new linen. The cleaning is done over a period of days so that no stone is left unturned and every crevice and cranny is spotless.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, singers from the Salvation Army visit homes and sing various carols, while eager residents listen intently, enjoying the performance. Once that special treat is finished, a modest donation is given to the carolers. Most homes have Christmas decorations of some kind, with Christmas lights twinkling in trees or in the beautifully trimmed hedges, especially the hibiscus tinged borders often called ‘shoe-block.’
The next phase involves the food preparation, which includes some steps that begin long before Christmas, such as soaking dried fruits in wine to make the fruit/rum cake, boiling the sorrel and setting it aside so that the flavor can deepen, preparing fish, jerk and curry chicken, oxtail, roast beef and an assortment of fruit and vegetable salads. The food supply is purchased at ‘Christmas Market,’ a special marketplace where farmers show off their most impressive harvest, just in time for the holidays.
On Christmas Eve, most children and young adults flock to the malls to shop and spend time with friends, squeezing out the last minutes of social time before the big day. Early Christmas morning, some folks go to a brief Christmas service at church before returning home as the day of feasting begins with what is termed a ‘big or heavy’ breakfast, consisting of the national dish: Ackee and salt-fish, served with roast bread fruit and/or fried dumplings, which we call Johnny cakes. After break-fast the presents are opened with large measures of excitement and squeals. Throughout the day, as the strains of Christmas carols fill Jamaican homes, cake, fruits, sorrel and rum punch are consumed until it’s time for the tasty Christmas dinner.
If a relative or friend is visiting from overseas, which we call ‘foreign,’ those from the USA typically come bearing red apples, in addition to an item of clothing. The apples were always viewed with a great deal of interest and to ensure that no one is left out, the apples, usually no more than two per household because of strict customs agents, is carefully sliced and each person gets to savor one slice at a minimum. The Jamaican apple is red, juicy and totally different in taste and texture from the American apple.
On Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, people visit each other and spend the rest of the weekend going to the beach, traipsing from Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios to public beaches in Negril and Montego Bay or basking in the healing waters of Milk River Bath in St. Thomas. Ah!! Christmas in Jamaica, lovingly called ‘Jamdown,’ heaven on earth! There is nothing like it!–OnPointPress.net–