For many people, Christmas means snow and fireplaces, but in the tropics we get sunshine. My family had a Jamaican Christmas for years long before we moved to Jamaica.
Our version of a Jamaican Christmas was rice and peas, curry goat, and sorrel. For folks who might not know, sorrel is drink brewed from a Hibiscus plant, that we usually drink around Christmas. Yes, we got sorrel outside of Jamaica, but nobody in my family seems to remember how we got it. I remember it growing all over the place, and since nobody around us used the plant for anything, we got as much sorrel as we wanted. Other family members remember that we got sorrel from other West Indian women. Either way, we had sorrel every year.
Still, there were some things about a Jamaican Christmas that we never had until we moved to Jamaica. Some years we were invited to spend Christmas with family friends and one thing I learned is that Christmas in Jamaica is HUGE. There was food everywhere – rice and peas, curry goat, sorrel, chicken, sea food, fruit cake, and enough ham to feed an army. I no longer eat meat but boy do I miss the Christmas ham.
I still get to eat fruit cake though and I’ve had all kinds. Typically, Jamaicans sell fruit cakes, or give them as gifts. The worst fruit cake I ever had was a health food version we bought made with whole wheat flour and cornmeal. Needless to say, it tasted like sand. I have no problem with health food but there’s one thing that should never be healthy and that is Christmas cake. The best cakes are the surprise ones – the ones given as gifts have always been my favorite ones. They’re always soft, and moist, and you can taste the fruit has been soaked in wine for just the right amount of time. Mostly these ones are the best ones because they’re made with care and kindness and love. I didn’t eat this cake before I came to Jamaica but it is now so important I can’t imagine Christmas without it.
Food at Christmas is as essential as a tree, which in our case is always fake. Some Jamaicans buy pine trees at the shopping plazas, but in my house we have a traditional Christmas and that means a genuine phony tree. We’re cheap and lazy, what can I say? The palm trees in public places like parks and shopping centers are always covered in lights.
As for Santa, when I was a kid he couldn’t come down a chimney since we don’t need those in the tropics, but according to my mother, he managed to get himself through the keyhole of the front door.
We do things that people in colder regions do just with our own tropical twist.