Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas in Jamaica

I find this piece interesting from the Jamaica Gleaner, dated December 9, 2010. During Jonkonnou (John Canoe) a traditional Christmas celebration, revellers parade through the streets dressed in colorful masquerade costumes. Traditionally, men wearing white, mesh masks play the characters which include the horned cow head, the policeman, horsehead, wild indian, devil, belly-woman, pitchy-patchy, and sometimes a bride and house head which is an image of a great house carried by the reveller on his head.

The parade and festival probably arrived with African slaves. Although Jamaica is credited with the longest running tradition of Jonkanoo, today these mysterious bands with their gigantic costumes appear more as entertainment at cultural events than at random along the streets. It is not as popular in the cities as it was 30 years ago but is still a tradition in rural Jamaica.

The Gleaner continues, The Grand Market is a community fair characterized by food, street dancing, crafts and music. In the past, the weekend before Christmas and particularly on Christmas Eve, markets all over the island were set up with vendors selling small toys, firecrackers, balloons and sweets of all kind, including pinda (an African word for peanut) cakes, grater cakes and peppermint sticks.

Traditionally some markets on Christmas Eve are decorated with streamers, large accordion-style bells and balloons. People are decked out in fancy clothes, including bright hats purchased upon entering Grand Market. Everyone comes to town for market and the celebrations last throughout the day and night.

Dinner on Christmas day is the biggest feast of the year. It includes chicken, oxtail, curry goat, roast ham, rice and gungo peas. Another holiday special is Christmas cake. It is made of fruit soaked with rum. The Christmas drink is sorrel. This is made from dried sorrel, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, sugar, orange peel and rum.

After reading the article in the Gleaner that day, I was interested to learn more about the masquerade in the street. Jonkonnu has many different spellings and is essentially a musical street masquerade with music, dance, symbols and mime. It took place at Christmas time because that was the only time that slaves were relieved of their duties. The band actually consisted of 3 instruments, the fife, drums, and a coconut grater. This tradition takes place in most, if not all, of the islands.

Looking at some images, the characters look quite scary to me! Some of the props are pitchforks and batons for the police.

Somehow I think the nativity scene would be more pleasant. I haven't seen that displayed here. Renee did get her picture taken with a really cool Santa one time. That was fun. He wore sunglasses and was quite skinny, but he did have a white beard!

Christians attend the Christmas service no matter what day of the week Chrstmas falls on. It is not an abbreviated service but rather one that is full just like a Sunday morning would be.

I am not so sure that the emphasis is on gifts but rather community, family, food and the best gift of all....Jesus.

1 comment:

  1. i dont celebrate christmas and i dont like the 666 sign that the lady in christmas suit is showing.