CHRISTMAS in Jamaica, as in many countries around the world, has become
commercialised. Carols are heard from the end of November, decorations
appear from the first of December in stores and homes, and Santa can
be visited in many different stores.
GRAND MARKET (or
Gran' Market) is a community fair characterised by food, street dancing,
crafts and music. In the past, the weekend before Christmas and particularly
on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, markets all over the island were
awash with vendors selling small toys, firecrackers, balloons and sweets
of all kinds pinda (an African word for peanut) cakes, grater
cakes and peppermint sticks. Oranges and even American apples were distinctive
features of the Grand Markets. Sorrel, chocolate tea and coffee flowed,
as did the Christmas carols and a merry banter between vendors and customers.
THE CRY "Jonkonnu a come!' meant excitement was near. As soon as the sound of the bands could be heard, people poured out of their houses lining the streets to watch the dancing masqueraders in their larger-than-life costumes. Children of all ages, and even some adults, would often run away screaming, frightened by the more elaborate costumes. Occasionally, some of the individual characters like the Devil, might jab at them with his fork, escalating the fear factor. Up to the 1960s masked Jonkonnu bands could be seen around the island.
Jonkonnu (also spelled John Canoe, John Konno, Johnny Canoe, Jonkunnu and John Canou) is an example of creolization in action, or, what Rex Nettleford calls the blending of the rhythmn of Africa with the melody of Europe.
However it began, Jonkonnu melded the tradition of masquerade from Africa with those of European masquerade and British mumming plays. Excerpts from Shakespearean monologues were often included. The costumes also reflected European influences incorporating the attire of kings and queens amongst the characters.
Although Jamaica is credited with the longest running tradition of Jonkonnu, today these mysterious bands with their gigantic costumes appear more as entertainment at cultural events than at random along our streets. Despite attempts to revive these customs so much is being lost. Today the cost of putting together a Jonkonnu band is also prohibitive and sponsors are not easy to come by.
Santa Visits Downtown
LIKE TODAY, the stores and streets downtown were heavily decorated and a Christmas tree could be found in the area now known as St. William Grant Park. Thousands awaited Santa's arrival on balconies and along crowded sidewalks. The Santa Claus Parade was a much-anticipated event. Streets were closed to traffic to clear the way for Santa's sleigh ride down King Street onto Harbour Street and Times Store, his final destination. Vendors lined the streets with boxes full of lollipops and biscuits. Marching bands, troops of boy scouts and girl guides, people holding effigies of Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante, and floats carrying various beauty queens preceded Old Saint Nick. The "Jolly Man in Red" was ceremoniously greeted at the door of Times Store by its owners and the Mayor of Kingston. One by one the hundreds of children waiting in long lines to tell Santa their Christmas wishes, made their way onto his comfortable lap. Santa stayed in Times Store for almost three weeks. Of course, today, Times Store is no more.
http://luna.cas.usf.edu/~alaing/jfolk.html#jonk Judith Bettleheim, "Jonkonnu Masquerade" http://www.talawa.com/maskarade.htm - Edward Long, History of Jamaica (London, 1774).
Peter Marsden: An Account of the Island of Jamaica (1788), Cynric R. Williams' A Tour through the Island of Jamaica (London, 1826)"
January 14 2002:
A Jamaica Gleaner Feature originally posted December 10, 2001
Copyright 2001. Produced by Go-Jamaica.com