Traditions are essential for humans to celebrate achievements, and important dates or seasons. There are several Jamaican Easter practices, some of which are religious. Easter is an important part of Jamaican life with strong ties to the island’s unique history and culture.
Many Jamaican Easter traditions find their roots in Easter traditions from other cultures. The celebrations provide a variety of fun-filled activities for everyone in the season.
1. Easter Bun
A tropical version of the hot cross bun popular in England is eaten with cheese during Easter in Jamaica. The original English cross bun recipe called for honey but was substituted with molasses. Also, the piping on the top of the buns stopped. The Jamaican Easter bun ingredients include honey/brown sugar, stout, spices, raisins, and dried mixed fruits. Easter buns have become an integral part of Jamaican culture - a tradition with roots in Ancient Babylon.
Bun and cheese are eaten together in abundance during this time. It is said that Christian priests mimicked the bun-eating associated with the pagan celebration of “Eastre” for the sake of new converts. The addition of the cheese is yet to be explained.
Mercelena Moodie recalls the Easter days of eating nothing but bun and cheese on the morning of Good Friday. "Growing up, we were told that no fire is to be lit before 12 noon, since the belief was that it adds to the heat that Jesus felt on the cross. Instead, the Easter fare of bun and cheese was heavily consumed." She explained that her parents owned and operated a shop and bar in her community in Portland, and they did not open until after 12 noon. That was their way of paying respect to the tradition.
The 40 days after Ash Wednesday comprises the Lenten period and represents the withdrawal and sacrifice of Christ. To emulate that, people traditionally abstain from meat on Good Friday and fish or bun and cheese is eaten instead. They may also choose to abstain from alcohol.
2. Attending Church
The most practiced religion in Jamaica is Christianity. Many non-church goers make the effort to worship on one of the three important Easter-related holidays in Jamaica. These holidays are Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent), Good Friday and Easter Monday. Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday are also important though not public holidays.
Jamaican congregants often wear black to church services for mass on Good Friday. On Easter day, everyone brings out their white and most colorful clothing to celebrate the Resurrection.
Janeal Bryan recounts. "Well for me, my family always tries to make it to Good Friday service every year for as long as I can remember," said Bryan. This is the only tradition that her family really took part in. Her family was not one that ate the famous Jamaican Easter bun and cheese.
Like Bryan, Shanique Grant remembers going to church with her family, but this was not her only tradition. "We have bun and cheese and we also watch only 'Jesus' movies and documentaries at this time," said Grant.
3. Egg Setting
While not practiced much by the younger crowd, the tradition of “egg setting” is an interesting custom. An egg white is dropped into a glass of water before morning on Good Friday. As the sun rises, the pattern or shape that the egg white creates in the water predicts the future for the person who set the egg. For example, if the egg white seems to form the shape of a ship, that person will travel overseas in the coming year.
Valcia Dunkley delved even deeper into Easter traditions, highlighting a time of not only religion but superstition. She explained, "In my day, people would get the country fowl egg whites for purity purposes and place them in a glass with water, using sticks to make an X over the glass. This was done the night before Good Friday or early Good Friday morning before the sun came up. They would leave it out and when the sun rose, they would check the shape of the egg to predict their future. If they saw a plane or ship, it would mean they would be traveling soon. A dress would mean a wedding was around the corner and a coffin meant death was knocking on your door.
4. Physic Nut Tree (Jatropha)
Some believe that the crucifixion cross of Jesus was constructed from a nut tree. The Physic nut tree has medicinal properties – the leaves, seeds, and root bark. Aside from its medicinal properties, the Physic Nut has strong associations in the Caribbean with Christ’s crucifixion. For example, in the book “Bush Doctor” which lists examples of the folklore surrounding Caribbean plants, Sylvester Ayre calls the tree the Crucifixion Tree. He stated that: “According to believers, the red blood-like substance that oozes from the tree when cut at Easter, symbolizes the blood Christ shed on the cross, which was reputedly made of Physic wood”.
One of the traditions unique to Jamaica is that Jamaicans celebrate Carnival after Easter once Lent ends, whereas most other cultures celebrate Carnival before.
The celebration is attended by celebrants throughout the island and commemorates the end of slavery. Festivalgoers enjoy music, parades, flower shows, sporting events, beach parties, and private gatherings for a unique celebration of life. The island is home to the Trelawny Yam Festival and International Kite Festival during Easter.
Typically, Jamaicans host parties during the Easter weekend, where friends and family get together to celebrate over a meal.
Easter Monday is a day of relaxation and recreation. It is usually very windy during March and April, so many people spend Easter Monday flying kites. People might spend the day at the beach or visiting flower shows.
Also called Bacchanal, the Jamaican carnival has been a growing tradition for more than 15 years. Established in 1990, the Jamaican Carnival is based off the annual Carnival in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. This carnival is not meant to compete with the Trinidad carnival, which occurs before Lent begins, and ends the day before Ash Wednesday.
The Jamaican carnival begins on Easter Sunday and ends the following weekend. This week was chosen to respect the religious, who choose to abstain from indulgences during Lent. The week of the Jamaican carnival is packed with parties and activities. The Carnival features many popular types of Caribbean music, including reggae, calypso, and Soca. The main events are held in Kingston, Montego Bay, and Negril.
6. Easter Celebrations and The Covid-19 Pandemic in Jamaica
Social activities and celebrations have been curtailed during the Easter season because the recent country’s Covid-19 numbers have shown a peaking. Measures already in place to curtail the spread of Covid-19 include strict curfews, beach closure, social distancing, hand sanitizing/washing and social distancing.
Besides the measures already in place, the Government of Jamaica has implemented stronger measures aimed at reducing the sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the island. Measures include three consecutive weekends of island-wide curfew to include the Easter Holiday period.
The announcement was made by Prime Minister, the Most Honorable Andrew Holness on Sunday, March 21.
Recent numbers suggest that there is a plateauing in the cases of new infections. Government of Jamaica officials however reported that it is too early to say that Jamaica's Covid-19 cases are declining.
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