The Christmas season has arrived in Jamaica, and the weather is mild and calm. Nights are a little cooler, and poinsettias are blooming. ‘Tis the season of goodwill.
But the busy bees of Kingston haven’t had time to appreciate all of this yet. They are rushing up and down like crazy on what might be the last working day before Christmas, for some. Traffic jams build up in the city, reaching a peak at around 4 in the afternoon, and never letting up until late. People are spending more money than they actually have in their pockets or their bank accounts. Credit cards are taking a bashing. Special, high Christmas prices are in force.
With their newly extended “closing times,” sound systems and party organizers are roaring away until 2:00 a.m., and 4:00 a.m. on weekdays. There are complaints that they are going beyond these already excessive hours. Last night, our dogs were terrified by fireworks, and these will no doubt punctuate night time activities.
Let’s look back at the “good old days” of Jamaican Christmas tradition, for a moment ( I am sure those days were quite noisy, too). My husband grew up in downtown Kingston. He remembers “Christmas Market” or “Gran’ Market” on Christmas Eve. He remembers walking down King Street (pedestrianized) to Victoria Pier “dressed up to the nines.” Well, Jamaicans don’t need any excuse to dress up, at any season of the year; but Christmas back in the day was a major social event.
The market began early in the morning. Stalls sold seasonal items: Christmas hats, kites, and small toys; “fifi” – small pipes, the equivalent of today’s plastic vuvuzelas; horns, flutes, hand rattles that spun round, and whistles – anything that would make a noise; food such as fry dumplings, salt fish, bammy, fried sprats, and sorrel to drink. My husband also remembers small wind-up cars, possibly the only imported item for sale at Christmas Market. The rest was all locally made – hand-made, especially for the season.
There was always Jonkonnu, a tradition of masqueraders, which seems to have originated in the 18th century and was popular in many Jamaican towns. The tradition has had a checkered history: a motley crew of wild, almost surreal characters, prancing down the road accompanied by a fife and drum. It was considered too vulgar and aggressive in the post-Emancipation era and was even banned in 1841 by the Mayor of Kingston. Nowadays, we only see it on rare occasions, and when we do it might be something sponsored by the government or for the tourists.
But on Sunday, December 22 there will, indeed, be Jonkonnu in downtown Kingston, when Kingston Creative stages a series of events highlighting performing and visual arts, crafts, foods, story-telling, poetry, light shows, and more. The Jamaica Photography Society will open an exhibition, and from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. there will be a Historical Tour and Performance at the Holy Trinity Cathedral on North Street. The day will officially start at 1:00 p.m. on the newly refurbished Water Lane, now enlivened with murals and colored paving. We hope that Mayor Delroy Williams will be out and about, and will not ban the Jonkonnu!
It’s not all about entertainment, however. If you have some last-minute Christmas presents to buy, why not browse around the stalls and pick up some good Jamaican craft?
If you are in (or near) Kingston – do join us. It will be not only a celebration, but a “deep dive” into what our city has to offer. There is so much there, you might never hit the bottom!
Kingston, our Creative City. And we’re not just talking about music.