As a Jamaican kid growing up in the 90s in Linstead, I looked forward to experiencing what I now know to be a Jamaican Christmas eve tradition called grand market. Grand market or as it is less often called by actual Jamaicans, Christmas market. It is, however, nothing like the North American version of a Christmas market. If you’ve never heard of it or been, it is a full day and night street market that goes on on Christmas eve and well into Christmas day. Rather than being held in an even space, it consumes the town or city, spreading across multiple streets.
It is meant to be all day and night into Christmas morning. I say meant because it starts well before and ends well after that time. The ‘eve’ period’ was just the peak of the event. The daytime on Christmas eve is usually for families and taking the smaller children out. By nightfall, the older kids and adults come out to shop, eat and party all night.
There are party sessions along the main street, blasting music from all different genres. The air is thick with delicious smoke from the pan chicken and pork from multiple vendors. The rich spicy smell of Caribbean flavours soups with corn. The festivities are meant to start on the morning of Christmas eve, however, most times, the festivities begin hours or even days before.
Linstead Grand Market
I am from a small town called Linstead in St. Catherine. Though there are other grand market celebrations all over the island, the authentic experience lives in Linstead. People come from all over the island to attend Linstead’s grand market. As such, vendors flock as well. Even as younger children, my sisters and I got to stay out very late.
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My mom was a higgler, so we would have permission to roam the crowds from pillar to post, as long as we check-in frequently. We basically party hopped, bought toys and looked for the Jerk stand that had the best jerk chicken or pork with our school friends. Sometimes, there would even be concerts (stage shows). it sounds adult, but for us teenagers, it was a pure fun time. It was always a night we looked forward to more than anything. It often led to us spending more than half of Christmas day in bed making up for the ‘bleaching’ we did overnight.
Despite the fact that I felt I outgrew the experience and stopped going in my early 20s, it was a cherished part of my upbringing. Things and times have changed though. Among other things, the experience became increasingly less safe. Even without this pandemic we’ve been straddled with for the past two years, I fear my child will never experience it. Still, my childhood memories of my Jamaican grand market or Christmas market, whatever you call it, will always be a valued part of my memories.
What was your Jamaican Christmas Eve experiece? Let me know in the comments.
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