Jamaica Diaspora Members Spread Yuletide Joys
by Leo Gilling
SOUTH FLORIDA – The celebration of Christmas derived from both the roman and pagan cultures. Romans held two events in December; a 2-week festival (Saturnalia) honoring their god of agriculture, Saturn, and a one-day (25th) event, celebrating Mirtha, their sun god.
With December hosting the darkest day of the year, the Pagans lit bonfires to keep the darkness away. Unable to curb the pagan festivities and not know Jesus’ birthday, Christians, therefore, adopted the 25th as Christ’s birthday.
Currently, December 25th is celebrated by Christians across the globe. However, Jamaicans developed their ways of delivering the joys of Christmas. The season of Christmas also holds a special place in the hearts of Jamaicans who live outside of Jamaica, the Jamaica Diaspora.
As Christmas rolls around, it was great to hear Diaspora individuals speak specifically about what they missed about Christmas while they grew up in Jamaica. It’s incredible how the Christmas experiences of the various participants differ. The responses are based on an expectation that all participants’ experiences that Christmas lasted for the entire month of December. All parishes have their way of celebrating Christmas.
The Christmas season is, at times, a personal experience, other times an expression of love with family and friends, but, importantly, a collaborative community occasion. Please note how the various persons from several communities expressed what they missed about Christmas.
Remembering Grand Market
Donovan G Jones, who hails from Oracabessa, St Mary, and now lives in London, misses the friendly spirit of authentic Christmas wishes and chats about their favorite foods. He enjoyed the road cleaning teams laughing, joking, and the camaraderie among community young people. He recalls the quiet of the town after it closes down on Dec 24th at 4 pm in preparation for Grand Market and Coney Island.
Mr. Jones also remembers all the boys spending hours looking at the only Christmas trees in town and the beating of the MOSCORATE (jankanoo) drums in crescendo as the dancers got closer to the small gathering of people waiting for a little more Christmas excitement. On Christmas day, the 25th, his mouth drips at the smell of curry goat, roast chicken, or roast beef, not at his house but from neighbors. Donovan says Jamaica was just magical at Christmas.
Verona Hall has lived in Los Angeles, California, for 20 years but was born and grew up in Spanish Town, Jamaica. Verona misses the pleasant change in the physical environment as the ‘Christmas Breeze ‘ starts to blow, and the red poinsettia and poinciana rise in red-coated beauty. She also recalls the Christ-centered plays, the concerts, and the pantomime, the smell of the Christmas cakes baking, and she especially missed the many Christmas parties.
Dr. Sylvanus Thompson grew up in Victoria District, just a few steps from Thompson Town, in North Western Clarendon. However, he spent most of his adult life living and working in Montego Bay. As a child, he looked forward to preparing for Christmas, trimming edges, and white-washing the stones and fences around the home. Grand Market shopping was unique to him, but he was more excited about waking up early on Christmas Day to open gifts from Santa. He recalls going to the church pageants, which were treasured highlights during the Christmas season. Dr. Thompson, however, misses more than anything else the warm interaction with family and friends on Christmas Day and the community celebrations on Boxing Day with Reggae music blasting from the “sound systems” and traditional Jamaican food.
Karen Fray Row grew up in St. Mary. Her response was different. “Gee Whiz, it’s Christmas!! Oh, how I miss the Grand Markets, the family getting together, especially when you have a visiting family member from a foreign in the midst. Christmas Carols are playing over the airwaves and even the Caroling by some church members as they walk around the communities early Christmas morning. Oh man, the food and all the prep leading up to when we would finally sit down at a well-set table to partake of this sumptuous meal. To top it off, freshly brewed sorrel and real Jamaican Christmas cake rubbed up in the yabba. My mom is now deceased, and Christmas in Jamaica Will never be the same without her in the mix, giving “ laugh fi peas soup,” as the old idiom goes.
Awww boy, sigh….”
Christmas Market at Friendship Square
Evadney Hyatt resides in Orlando, Florida but also hails from Islington, St Mary. Evadney said she fondly remembers, “The things I miss most about Christmas in Jamaica are many. However, the memories closest to my heart are Christmas Market at Friendship Square, started by the Maroons, who settled in the area after leaving Moore Town. The excitement for me was the display and sale of ground provisions, pastries, clothing, toys, fe-fes, dolly babies, squibs, clappers, giants, and starlights. I also remember the Duck bread and the fragrance of hard-dough and grotto-bread. We are fried Sprats, freshly picked gungu peas and red beans, sorrel, Ginger, and the bright colors and aroma of the tangerines. Evadney further recalls, “I miss the community spirit and the joy Of visiting needy families, eating black cake, and attending cricket matches on boxing day; the sound and vibration of the Steel Horn from the sound system and the Delco in the Banana Walk. And finally, “I recall and miss the freedom and the openness of life; no burglar bars or grills on homes; all our doors remained unlocked during the days up to late nights.”
Attorney Ray Connell currently lives in Seattle, Washington. He was born in Kingston but grew up in Morant Bay. Ray said, “What I miss about Christmas in Jamaica are the many office parties from December 1st til January 1st each year. I missed the Boxing Day dinners my mother was famous for putting on. We used to get a ham that I have not come across here. We used to walk around downtown Kingston on Christmas Eve with my friends. Finally, I miss the sunlight and the warm weather in Jamaica.”
Decorating the House
A bit of surprise is left for last. Valerie Adams Richards grew up in Kencot and Stony Hill in Saint Andrew. Valerie said, “My fondest memories are; looking forward to getting new shoes and clothes; mama would start buying aerated water (drinks) and store it under the bed. Of course, bottles of wine was also held there, but the kids didn’t touch those; we would instead take a bottle of soda from the middle of the crate. The family would get together to decorate the house with balloons and crêpe paper rolls. We had poinsettias in the yard. We called them six months green, six months red, and those would start turning red.
On Christmas Eve, we would hang our stockings on our bed heads, one of Mama’s old stockings, we would try to stay awake all night, but Santa would never come; however, when I woke up in the morning, Santa’s gifts would be in the stockings. Of course, we had gone to church earlier in the day on Christmas Eve. Early Christmas morning, after we opened our gifts, Daddy would take us to the Christmas market on King Street. Especially Times Store. Santa would be there for us to meet and get another gift.
The days of the ole–time of Christmas have passed. Many customs no longer exist, but we hold them close to our hearts to reminisce and reflect. New rituals are created that are unlike the ones of the old. Don’t push back on them. Forty years from now, they will be the ancient rituals referred to.
Leo Gilling – Diaspora Engagement Strategist & Advocate – Chairman – JDTAN