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Christmas the Jamaican way: Irie

Although Jamaica is an island that has never seen snow, and its houses are designed without chimneys, Christmas season in Jamaica is the most festive time of the year. The season is celebrated with special treats like Jamaican fruit cake and sorrel drink, entertainment, parties, festivals and happy gatherings of friends and family. 
By the first week of December, the “Christmas breeze”, a cool and welcome wind that signals the start of the season, can be felt all around Jamaica.

The sugarcane sends up its plume; poinsettias bloom in red and white; sorrel is ripe and ready for reaping. Everyone who plans to bake Christmas cakes (plum pudding) will have put their fruits - raisins, prunes, currants, etc.- to soak in white rum or port. Carols ride the air and housewives hang new curtains to welcome the season.

Christmas Tastes:

The drink of choice for Jamaicans during the Christmas season is sorrel. The red fruit of this plant is made into a sweetened, red-coloured drink spiced with ginger, cloves, pimento and white rum, without which Christmas is unthinkable. Some leave the drink to ferment and make Sorrel Wine.

Christmas dinner is a major feast in Jamaica and can include rice and gungo peas, chicken, oxtail, curry goat and roast ham. Gungo peas usually ripen in December and are a Christmas specialty for Jamaica.  Throughout the rest of the year, red peas are cooked with the rice, but gungo peas are substituted during the Christmas season.


Gungo may also be made into soup, oftentimes with the bone left over from the Christmas ham. “Yampi”, a sweet yam, is served with ham (a required Christmas meat) or beef, goat meat, turkey or specially raised chickens.

A Jamaican Christmas meal is never complete without Christmas cake or Christmas pudding, which is prepared using fruits that have been soaked for months in rum or port. The finished cake or pudding is doused with port wine and/or rum and can be kept without refrigeration for several weeks.

Seasonal Activities:

Christmas celebrations have developed with both American and European influences with strong religious overtones. For example, Christmas carols in Jamaica are the same popular songs in other nations, including, Oh Holy Night, Silent Night, etc. However, some Christmas carols can also be found in a Reggae version.

Among Jamaica’s most renowned celebrations of Christmas are Grand Market and Jonkonnu. The Grand Market (or Gran’ Market) is a community fair characterized by food, street dancing, crafts and music. Markets all over the island are set up with vendors selling small toys, firecrackers, balloons and sweets of all kinds, including pinda (an African word for peanut) cakes, grater cakes and peppermint sticks. 

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

Jonkonnu is a traditional Christmas celebration in which revellers parade through the streets dressed in colourful masquerade. The customs used in these masquerades are said to have their roots in Africa and the slaves who were transplanted to Jamaica adapted them to the new environment as part of the Christmas celebrations. Jonkonnu bands include a mixture of traditional and modern characters, which vary from one part of the island to another, including: Cow Head or Horse-head, King, Queen (wearing a veil), Devil, Pitchy-Patchy, Red Indians, Belly Woman (a “woman” with largely pronounced/exaggerated “pregnancy”) and a mock Policeman to keep the motley crew and crowd in check.

Ghosts of Christmas:

Some of Jamaica’s more infamous ghost stories are set in the period approaching Christmas. During this period the most fearsome ghosts (also known as duppies) to be seen are the Three-Foot Horse (appendages, not measurements) and the Rolling Calf. The tales, mostly told by rural folk, speak of heart-stopping encounters with either of these spirits - the Rolling Calf dragging chains and the Three-Foot Horse with his irregular hoof beats.

Get your drink on: SORREL DRINK

Recipe from

1 pound sorrel

2-4 ounces ginger

2 quarts water


wine (optional)

8-12 pimento grains

Jamaican recipe ingredients and seasoning can be purchased online through this Website.


Wash sorrel thoroughly, using the fingers to lift it from the water.

Put into stainless steel container.

Scrape and wash ginger. Grate and add to the sorrel. Add pimento grains.

Boil water and pour over sorrel.

Allow to stand 4-6 hours. Strain.

Sweeten to taste and add rum to taste.

Add optional wine.

Serve with ice cubes.