Easter is here! Easter is a Christian holiday and over 60% of Jamaicans identify as practicing Christians. As a result, Good Friday is a solemn national holiday in Jamaica where all businesses are closed. Good Friday commemorates Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and devout Christians observe the day by fasting, re-enacting Christ’s last hours and attending church. On the other hand, Easter Sunday is a joyous day commemorating Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the grave. The day after Christ’s resurrection, Easter Monday, is a national holiday in Jamaica as well. Jamaicans eagerly look forward to this four-day Easter weekend each year. Here are eight ways in which we celebrate Easter past and present.
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How Is Easter Celebrated In Jamaica?
- Eat Bun and Cheese
- Eat Fish
- Fly Kites
- Beach or River Trip
- Predict Your Future With An Egg
- Attend Yam Festival
- Cut the Bleeding Tree
- Go to Church
- Wrap Up
1. Eating Bun and Cheese
The Jamaican Easter bun is reminiscent of British hot cross buns which were traditionally eaten on Good Friday, with the cross symbolizing the crucifixion of Jesus. This tradition made its way to Jamaica with the island’s colonization by the British in 1655. Since then, we have made the hot cross bun our own by adding stout and more spices for a darker colour and sweeter, richer taste. Easter bun is usually eaten with a local processed cheddar cheese, but other Jamaicans may get more inventive by pairing Easter bun with patties, butter, peanut butter and even fried fish. You can find Easter Bun in supermarkets all year round but during Easter, bakeries will bake more buns than bread! If you’re up for the challenge, try this recipe to make your own Easter bun at home.
2. Eating Fish
As an island nation, we have easy access to fish in Jamaica. We eat lots of fish year round, but even more is sold and consumed during Easter. Snapper is the most popularly consumed fish, and parrotfish is still regularly eaten despite loads of reasons why we should avoid this fish. This tradition of eating fish at Easter time is religious-based. Meat was seen as a delicacy in ancient cultures so abstaining from meat would be a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice for us by dying on the cross. Many Christians will even abstain from meat for the entire Lenten season and only consume fish.
3. Flying Kites
Kite-making and flying is a dying practice in Jamaica, like most parts of the world. However, pre-pandemic Jamaica would host the annual St. Ann Kite Festival on Easter Monday. This family event would have a kite-flying competition and there would be prizes for the biggest and best kites, along with bun-eating contests, dancing and live music. It is held at the Grizzly Plantation in Richmond, St. Ann on the north coast.
4. Have a Beach or River Trip
If you go to the beach or visit a river during Easter weekend, you’ll be sharing your water body with dozens if not hundreds of other persons. Jamaican families head to the river and beach during Easter because the children are out of school, and most of the adults are off work for the long weekend. There are several adults-only water parties too, and the party flyers go out weeks in advance.
5. Predict Your Future With An Egg
Thanks to my mom for letting me know about this one! A fresh egg is cracked open in a bowl and left overnight on Holy Thursday. On Good Friday, you can predict your future by seeing whatever shape the coagulated egg takes on. I’d love to see an airplane or house in my future, ha.
6. Attend Yam Festival
The annual Trelawny Yam Festival is held in the Albert Town village square on Easter Mondays. This festival showcases yam, one of Jamaica’s most popular foods. Yam is a huge part of the livelihood and economy of rural Trelawny which grows 60% of the island’s yams. This festival began in 1997 to raise money for local farmers and garner support for the community which had a record of 18,000 attendees in 2004. Yam festival features innovative products like yam cakes, puddings and other baked goods where yam substitutes wheat. There is also yam punch and a potent yam wine. There are over 18 different varieties of yam in Jamaica, and you’ll find just about every variety and use of yam there, however, yam festivals are not unique to Jamaica. Yam festivals are held in Ghana, Nigeria and other parts of the world with a strong African diaspora. Hopefully this festival will get revived in the post-pandemic era.
7. Cut the Bleeding Tree
Growing up, I’ve heard about this curious custom but I’ve never seen it in my 20+ years, neither can I identify the physic nut tree (Jatropha curcas). Nonetheless, the physic nut tree is deeply rooted in Jamaican culture and folk medicine. The leaves can be used to treat coughs, fever, rheumatism, wounds and sores, while the seeds are a potent purgative. Oil from the seeds are used in the treatment of skin conditions, rheumatic pains and can stimulate hair growth. However, care must be taken with all parts of the plant as it is poisonous in large doses. During Easter, it is believed that its sap turns red which symbolizes the suffering and blood of Christ. Legend has it that the tree will bleed at noon on Good Friday, while others go as far to say that this tree was used to make the cross for the crucifixion.
8. Going to Church
Of course, we cannot forget the reason for the season. Many Jamaicans attend church during Easter. There is the Watch Night service held on Holy Thursday where congregants’ feet are washed by a priest or pastor to symbolize Christ washing his disciples’ feet. Good Friday and Easter Sunday services are well attended and the stark contrast between the two services is interesting. Good Friday mass is solemn with a bare altar while Easter Sunday is joyous and as well decorated as during Advent and the Yuletide season. Congregants will wear white to Easter Sunday mass.
I hope you enjoyed learning more about how Easter is celebrated in Jamaica. If you’re Jamaican, will you be doing any of these things this weekend? Let me know in the comments section. If you’d like to know how Christmas is celebrated in Jamaica, you can read that post here.
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‘Til next time.