Updated: Jan 2
Jamaican Holidays; Jamaica Emancipation; Jamaican Independence; Jamaican Heritage; Jamaican History; Jamaican People; Jamaica Attractions; Jamaica Culture
Jamaicans love to celebrate and this is the culture of the people showing their warmth and energy. You will find that behind certain celebrations is a history of struggle and suffering lest we forget; and these show the resilience and determination that we have as a people. These celebrations are carried from generation to generation with stories handed down as well. It’s a great idea to visit the country during a festive occasion to experience first-hand the spirit of Jamaicans.
While many Jamaican holidays and celebrations are similar to secular and religious events in the West, this island nation has its own unique festivals. The ten festive occasions listed below are the most significant Jamaican holidays and celebrations. Hopefully this list will inspire you to learn more about Jamaica’s many holidays.
New Year's Day
Jamaicans follow various traditions to give thanks for the closing year and welcome the new one. Traditions of celebrating the new year can run the gamut from making resolutions to spending time with family.
Jamaicans are no different from people of other nationalities. They make resolutions designed to improve their quality of life. Some Jamaicans like to take revelry into their own hands and light firecrackers on the streets. Many Jamaicans attend church to thank God for his blessings in the previous year and commit their plans for the New Year to Him.
The Accompong Maroon Festival
The Accompong Maroon Festival is an important historical event that takes place every January 6th in Accompong Town. Locals celebrate the Maroons’ victory over British colonists, which took place on this day in 1731. In addition to getting a good dose of history and learning all about the Maroon Captain Cudjoe, this festival has plenty of exceptional food, song, and dance. Although Accompong Maroon Festival isn’t one of the better-known Jamaican holidays and celebrations, it’s certainly worth your attention if you’re in the region.
About 60 percent of Jamaicans identify as Christian and the major Christian holidays remain some of the most important Jamaican holidays and celebrations. While Easter might not be as big a deal as Christmas, it’s still an extremely important holiday for many Jamaicans.
One of the most distinctive features of Easter in Jamaica is the Easter bun and cheese. Since many Jamaicans abstain from meat during this time of year, sales of bun and cheese skyrocket during the Lent and Easter season. Consider making this classic Jamaican dish at home if you can’t travel to Jamaica during Easter time.
Like most other Western countries, most Christian families go to church on Good Friday and first thing in the morning on Easter Sunday. After church service, however, Jamaicans like to celebrate by taking the children out to the country’s gorgeous beaches and flying kites. There are also numerous beautiful flower shows around Jamaica during Easter.
Reggae Month - February
Reggae Month was first held in February 2008, led by the Ministry of Culture in association with the Jamaican Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA). Reggae Month highlights Jamaica’s musical heritage on the country’s social, cultural, and economic development. It has also created an understanding of Jamaican lifestyle and culture for the rest of the world. A form of music for the masses in which their word can be heard and spoken. It is a way to celebrate their nationalism and life.
Like many other nations around the world, Jamaica celebrates Labor Day to honor its thousands of workers. Labor Day is a public holiday and is celebrated on May 23.
In 1972, motivated by a desire to inspire national unity, Jamaican Prime Minister the Most Honorable Michael Manley started the movement to make Labor Day a day when Jamaicans would get involved in local community projects.
Government officials encourage citizens to volunteer a bit of their time to help paint, re-build, or clean up buildings around the country on this day. While not mandatory, many Jamaicans set aside a few hours to lend a hand and come together as a community on this significant holiday.
Labor Day 2021, Monday, May 24 was different with an all-day curfew, a “no movement” day. Therefore, community projects traditionally linked to the day were not done. Jamaicans were therefore invited to carry out activities around their homes, under the theme – Promoting a Clean and Healthy Environment.
Emancipation Day is another public holiday in Jamaica. This holiday, however, commemorates the signing of the Emancipation Declaration on August 1st, 1838, in which the British abolished the practice of slavery in their colonies. This proclamation was first read in Spanish Town, which was then the capital of Jamaica. Many Jamaicans celebrate this historic occasion by going to church or gathering in Spanish Town to hear a recitation of the original Emancipation Proclamation.
As we celebrate Emancipation on August 1, we honor the sacrifice and struggles of a resilient people – the Jamaicans. The atrocities of the Middle Passage, the whippings, the long and hard days of unrewarded work on the plantations, the executions, the rebellions…
Since Independence Day is celebrated just five days after Emancipation Day. The two are often considered part of a week-long patriotic celebration. Following 300 years of slavery, the British released the Emancipation Proclamation in 1838, they didn’t formally grant Jamaica independence until 1962. Every church in Jamaica participates in a special flag raising ceremony on Independence Day morning.
During the Great Depression, workers protested inequality and fought the authorities in Jamaica and other Caribbean colonies. In 1943, labor leader Alexander Bustamante won an electoral victory and established a new, more liberal constitution. On 19th July 1962, the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed the Jamaica Independence Act, granting independence as of 6th August 1962 with the Queen as Head of State. On that day, the Union Jack was ceremonially lowered and replaced by the Jamaican flag throughout the country.
There’s usually a major gala event and parade in Kingston’s Independence Stadium to help locals show their Jamaican pride. Government officials often organize special cultural events on this day and the names of people set to be honored on National Heroes’ Day are formally released. As you can imagine, Emancipation Day and Independence Day are some of the most important Jamaican holidays and celebrations.
National Heroes' Day
Yet another patriotic holiday in Jamaica is National Heroes’ Day, which takes place on October 16th. The government releases the names of each year’s National Heroes’ Day recipients on August 6th. Usually the Jamaican government allows seven new heroes to enter their official roster on National Heroes’ Day.
The Order of National Hero is the most senior order in Jamaica’s honor system awarded by the local government. To be qualified as a Jamaican national hero, a person must have been born in or be a citizen of Jamaica, and rendered to the country, service of a distinguished nature. Seven have earned that distinction including Marcus Garvey and Norman Washington Manley.
Christmas in Jamaica features Gran’ Market, elaborate church services, parties with sumptuous food, community gatherings and warm interaction with friends and family. Every activity is significant with the sharing of gifts, the traditional Christmas pudding or cake, ham, sorrel, rum punch and eggnog, among other treats. Many Jamaicans cannot celebrate the season without adding Christmas lights to brighten freshly-painted houses, whitewashed fences, and trimmed hedges.
On Christmas morning, Jamaicans go to the early morning services at church. They then spend the rest of the day meeting with family and friends. Usually Jamaicans exchange gifts after Christmas dinner. It traditionally consists of ham, roasted chicken, and, of course, traditional Jamaican fruit cake. Without a doubt, Christmas is one of the most popular Jamaican holidays and celebrations.
Boxing Day, which follows Christmas Day, got its name from the tradition of tradesmen receiving gifts in boxes (a “Christmas Box”) from their employers for a year’s work well done. Boxing Day is linked also to an older English tradition in which servants who had to keep working in their masters’ households throughout Christmas Day would visit their families, on the day after Christmas. The mistress of the house would give each servant a box with leftovers from the household’s Christmas Dinner and items of clothing from the annual pruning of the household’s wardrobes.
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An entrepreneur with years of writing experience running the gamut from blogging to project reporting. She lives in Kingston, Jamaica and is the chief writer/editor for the Jamaica So Nice Blog. Jackie represents an e-commerce business called "Jamaica So Nice" which offers authentic Jamaican products. She speaks about it with animation, "I love the experience of living in Jamaica, and I introduce Jamaica to the world through the "Jamaican experience," which is captured in our people, culture, products and attractions."