When it comes to Christmas, every destination has its own traditions. Before even getting to the traditions, you’ll need to figure out the best place to go. While there are lots of different Christmas vacation ideas for families, heading to a warm winter destination like Jamaica in the Caribbean is one of the best options.
In Jamaica, Christmas is hands down one of the most popular holidays. This is truly a festive and special time of year and families on the island really get into the celebration. During the holiday season in Jamaica, radio stations will play carols all day long, and many families spruce up their homes and start planning Christmas lunches and other celebrations. Though most of the locals enjoy simply spending Christmas at home, there are quite a few Christmas traditions on this island that visitors can enjoy while being out and about. We’ve listed some of the most popular below:
There are various Christmas traditions you can look forward to experiencing if you travel to Jamaica during the holiday season. One of these involves visiting the popular Grand Market, commonly referred to as “Gran’ Market” by the locals. This lively event happens on Christmas Eve and usually takes place in all of the major towns in Jamaica.
Children can look forward to seeing Santa Claus at the Gran’ Market festival and lots of bounce houses too. Shopping is a big part of this vibrant holiday experience, which is something the entire family can enjoy. This means you’ll be able to pick up some last-minute presents if you need to. Within the festivities, you’ll find vendors selling a variety of items, and stores in the area tend to offer sales specials at this time as well.
Some of the items you might find for sale at Gran’ Market include toys, Christmas decorations, apparel, household items, and more. Many of the sellers import things specifically to display and sell at this event, so you really can expect to find a wide variety of merchandise. In addition to shopping, you can look forward to enjoying local music and entertainment at this event as well. You’ll find sound systems set up around stores and malls, and even street dancers in some areas. The dancing acts tend to be on display right up until Christmas Day.
Good to know: Gran’ Market typically starts in the morning and spans the entire day. Even with that said, most people leave around 6 p.m. Definitely go to Gran’ Market expecting crowds, especially if you go later in the day.
The Jamaican Pantomime is a Christmas tradition that has been around since the 1940s. Lovers of international folk culture will appreciate being a part of this event while in Jamaica. Jamaican Pantomime is basically a showcase of local songs and dances that pay homage to Jamaica's history and culture or parody current events and well-known individuals. Going back to the start, Jamaican Pantomime has its beginnings with classic children’s fairy stories, which evolved over time into more dramatic entertainment pieces. This would always happen at Christmastime, and continues to be the case so many years later.
Jamaica Pantomime serves as a source of entertainment for tens of thousands of people, and it helps to conserve folk culture on this island as well. This event usually includes a cast and a storyline that is quite vivid and engaging. Onstage, the narrative is brought to life in the most relatable and memorable way. These plots are a big part of what makes the event a must-see on the Jamaican holiday festivities calendar.
Good to know: Aside from entertainment, there are many incredible things Jamaica is known for that you’ll love about this island. That list includes the island’s luxurious resorts like Negril resorts and Ocho Rios Jamaica resorts which are located next to stunning beaches!
On several islands, Jonkonnu, sometimes known as Junkanoo, is a popular Christmas, Boxing Day, or New Year's Day event. Jamaica is one of the English-speaking Caribbean islands that participate in this street masquerade event. Celebrations of Jonkonnu are typically held in rural areas of Jamaica, such as Portland, Westmoreland, and St. Thomas. Some people find this masquerade very fun, while others find it quite terrifying.
The origins of Jonkonnu's name are unclear, but there are a few clues as to where it might have come from. Some say the event was named after John Canoe, a west African king from the 18th century. Others suggest the name comes out of a mispronunciation of the French phrase, gens inconnu, which means “unknown people". The latter argument is supposed to be owing to the impossibility to identify participants in the celebration due to masks and costumes. In any case, this is one of the island's oldest celebrations, claimed to have been observed by enslaved Africans on the three holidays that they were allowed to have.
Jonkonnu has both African and English masquerade and mumming traditions. You can expect to see a dancing band of masqueraders and costumed figures performing in the various towns and villages if you attend this event while in Jamaica. This is more common around the holidays. Characters in the masquerade include the King and Queen, Cow Head, Horse Head, Pitchy Patchy, and Belly Woman. A musical ensemble that includes one or more drums, a bamboo fife, and other blowing instruments, such as a cow horn or a conch shell, are usually part of the parade. A grater scraped with a fork is also used as a Jonkonnu musical instrument, which is more unconventional but nonetheless completely traditional in this situation.
Food is a central focus in Christmas traditions around the world and Jamaica is no exception. Throughout the day there are various Christmas traditions that are observed at meal times on this island. This includes breakfast -- a typical Jamaica Christmas breakfast/brunch can include ackee and saltfish, breadfruit, fried plantains, boiled bananas, freshly squeezed fruit juice, and tea. Christmas breakfast in Jamaica brings out some of the best national dishes and other tasty treats of this island and it is definitely worth experiencing.
In Jamaica, traditional Christmas meals are something to be anticipated just as much as getting presents. A most popular meal at this time of year is dinner, as around Christmastime this meal tends to be made in a special way. Traditional Jamaican Christmas dinner typically includes ham, oven-baked chicken, curried goat, oxtail, and fish. Based on the menu, these items would be cooked in various Jamaican styles.
There is usually a variety of food included in the traditional Jamaican Christmas dinner, but special attention is usually paid to the ham. Many Jamaicans widely report that Christmas would be incomplete without ham. Making holiday ham is an intricate and often time-consuming process. Once it is cooked, this popular dish is usually topped with pineapple, cherries, and cloves.
The side dishes are important too. In true Jamaican fashion, rice and peas (rice mixed with red kidney beans) has a prominent place on the Christmas dinner table. At Christmas time, this dish might be made with gungo (pigeon) peas as opposed to kidney beans. Fresh gungo peas are available mostly during the month of December. If you’re on the island during this time, it presents a great opportunity to learn how to make this and other delicious Jamaican dishes.
Expert tip: If you want to visit Jamaica for the holidays, you might want to take a look at this Jamaica packing list. This detailed list can help ensure you don’t leave anything important behind. If it's your first time traveling to Jamaica, you can also read our post on Jamaica travel tips dos and don’ts so you know what to expect.
Christmas is one time of year when it will certainly be worth your while to leave some room for dessert. In Jamaica, there are lots of Christmas drinks and desserts that you might want to try during the holiday season. Sorrel is a popular holiday beverage that has some nutritional benefits as well. Sorrel is made with the roselle, a type of hibiscus flower, which is native to West Africa. This flower is said to have been brought to Jamaica during the slavery era. To make this drink, the roselle is dried, then boiled with ginger. Spices like Jamaican pimento are usually added in along with some form of sweetener. Sometimes Jamaican white rum is added to sorrel at Christmastime for a festive touch. Sorrel is best served cold, so you can wait for it to cool down then grab a cup of ice to enjoy.
While you probably won't have time to prepare your own sorrel during your holiday, keep in mind that this is something you can often enjoy at local Jamaican restaurants during the Christmas season. Another popular drink on the island during the holidays is Jamaican Guinness punch. Guinness Stout, Supligen, condensed milk, essential spices, and sometimes angostura bitters are included in this beverage.
Just as it is in other parts of the world, fruit cake is a popular Christmastime dessert in Jamaica. This sweet treat will definitely be enjoyed by anyone with a sweet tooth. In Jamaica, fruit cake is made with special island flair and a whole lot of spices. A lot goes into the taste of a Jamaican fruit cake which can require up to a year of preparation that includes soaking the fruits. Pieces of fruit are steeped in Jamaican rum for flavor. White rum is also sometimes added to fruit cake for a kick. No worries though if you want to share some with the kids, you can get fruit cakes with and without alcohol in Jamaica during the holiday season.
Midnight Mass is a Christmas tradition for many people in Jamaica. This means that a number of families will attend special church services on Christmas Eve, typically after the Grand Market. Roman Catholic and Anglican churches are usually among the churches that host Midnight Mass. Other denominations, like Seventh Day Adventists, might have their special Christmas service earlier in the evening to usher in the day. Not all Jamaicans go to church on Christmas Eve though, some people just prefer to party all night and enjoy the festiveness of the season.
Christmas caroling is a part of the Jamaican Christmas tradition as well! To give the season a special local flavor, creative songs and lyrics are often on display during this time as well as some of the classics. As there are many local artists who have released Christmas albums over the years in Jamaica, there’s quite a lot to choose from when it comes to caroling material. Some popular Jamaican Christmas tunes include, “We Wish You An Irie Christmas” by Jacob Miller and Ray I, “Christmas Behind Bars” by Gregory Issacs, “Santa Ketch Up Inna Mango Tree” by Faith D’Aguilar, and more. As some of the popular songs are classics that were reworked and fitted with reggae beats, you won’t have a hard time falling into the rhythm.
Expert tip: If you want to enjoy some of the classic Christmas carols while in Jamaica, a special church service might be a good place to experience this.
Boxing Day is the holiday after Christmas on Caribbean islands like Jamaica. This is a favorite holiday for many people. With Christmas Day and Boxing Day falling one after the other, people really get a chance to take a break and spend time with friends and family at this time. In Jamaica, residents usually spend Boxing Day either relaxing at home, having family lunches, or going to the beach.
For those who do choose to go out on Boxing Day, there are a few events happening around town including the opening pantomime. This is a well-attended event that marks the beginning of the national pantomime season. The pantomime as earlier mentioned is an annual production that highlights the customs, dance, music, costumes, and other aspects of Jamaica, in a vibrant way. The jovial pantomime season opens at 6 p.m. on Boxing Day.
On Boxing Day, some Jamaicans make a point of giving gifts or tips to the people who helped them throughout the years. Whether it be the postman, the newspaper delivery person, or perhaps even a helpful gas station attendant, locals often offer small gifts of gratitude around this time. Other than that, popular happenings in Jamaica on Boxing Day include horse racing and cricket.
Christmas in Jamaica is all about spending time with those nearest and dearest to you. Whether that be friends or family, during Christmas time, Jamaicans usually make a point of ringing in the season with the people they care about. As such, with families especially, you’ll find quite a few reunions taking place at this time of year. As part of these celebrations, each family member will bring a dish — sort of like a potluck.
Sharing food and coming together is one of those time-honored Christmas traditions of Jamaica. In times past, it was common to find Jamaicans cooking for their neighbors around Christmas time and sharing food. People who lived deep in rural Jamaica are famous for this. In more recent times, people cook food on Christmas Day in anticipation of friends and family dropping by throughout the day. So essentially, people would be moving from house to house on Christmas Day, eating, drinking, and merry-making along the way.
At Christmastime in Jamaica, you can expect to find some homes and business places decorated with extravagant ornaments on the inside and outside. Some will also include festive curtains, tablecloths, place settings, and Christmas lights, which are also known as “pepper lights” on this island. Pepper lights are commonly seen adorning streets, villages, and trees, and they really add a special Christmas feel to just about any location.
A sure sign that Christmas has arrived in Jamaica is the presence of poinsettias. This is a plant that is commonly incorporated into Christmas decor in many parts of the world. So significant are poinsettias to the Christmas season that there are several songs made about it by some Caribbean artists. Poinsettias originated in Mexico and the United States. The possible colors of this plant include red, cream, and orange. Real and artificial poinsettias are not usually hard to find around Christmastime. The most popular variation is the real red poinsettias, and these are sometimes given as gifts in Jamaica.
If you have a chance to visit Jamaica during the Christmas holidays, definitely say yes to this adventure. This is one of the best times of the year to travel to Jamaica particularly if you want to go at a time when there’s a lot going on. Whether you decide to visit the popular Gran’ Market or attend the traditional Jamaica Christmas Pantomime, you can experience a true Caribbean Christmas in Jamaica.
If you’ll soon be traveling to Jamaica with family and you’re not sure about where to stay, consider one of the Jamaica all-inclusive resorts which are a really fun place to spend the holidays. At Beaches Resorts, you’ll be able to enjoy great food at multiple restaurants, day and night entertainment, land and water sports, a water park, and even swim-up bars for kids and parents. You can also easily make your way to some of the Christmassy events in Jamaica and set up exciting tours as well, right from your resort!
Expert tip: If you’re looking for some warm winter getaways to be able to spend next Christmas on the beach then Jamaica is a great option. You can plan in advance so you don’t have to worry about getting ready for your amazing adventure at the very last minute!