Christmas Eve is one of the biggest days of the year for most folks in Jamaica. The island may annually have it’s Independence Day celebrations (August), Labour Day (May) and National Heroes Day (October); but nothing captures the Jamaican’s imagination for fun and exuberance like Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve in Jamaica is affectionately known as Gran Market. Gran Market is a long standing tradition for Jamaicans dating back centuries. It is the time for families to hit their home towns across the island and celebrate through to the early hours of Christmas Day.
This year’s Gran Market was my first in Jamaica since 1985. Just like then Gran Market is the day children look forward to the most. Gran Market is the only evening in the year that most parents agree to allow their kids outdoors gone past 9 pm. It was the event I looked forward to in my younger days.
My previous 25 Christmas Eves were spent in London and normally by lunchtime of that day the city grinds to a halt with families settled in to their homes eating away until the 27th December. The shops are empty by 3pm and public transport starts winding down by late afternoon. Maybe the Jamaican’s have got the right idea in celebrating Christmas Eve.
Back in 1982, when I was 15, I was stung by a scorpion on Christmas Eve. Had I told my mum of that incident she would not have allowed me out on Gran Market night. So I went out without telling her and enjoyed myself despite the pain. One of my earlier experiences in the power of the mind.
This year’s Gran Market proceedings in my home town of Old Harbour started from roughly 9 am when vendors hit the main market stalls and pavements promoting their goods. The usual fruit and veg vendors were out there plus others selling toys, games, clothes. Fast street food and drink is consumes in droves – Jerk chicken, jerk fish, popcorn, peanuts, sugar cane, pineapple, jelly water and taboo. Even the large KFC branch in Old Harbour stayed opened until 3 am.
The first thing that hits you on Gran Market day in Old Harbour is the never ending heavy traffic build up on East Street. By 830 am the traffic was at a snail’s pace and even 15 hours later on Christmas Day morning the traffic jams were much worse. The late night revellers coming from the east into Old Harbour’s main square by taxi or bus ended up walking the last half mile due to the logjam.
By early afternoon the pavements were taken over by the vendors and meant pedestrians vying for space on the roads with drivers. On sale were kiddies stuff. i.e. toys, children’s clothes and footballs.
Children were spoilt for choice as to the items on display for them to plead with their parents to purchase. Especially any toys that had lights. Until today I had never witnessed hordes of children playing freely on a bouncy castle at midnight!
When I first came to live in Old Harbour (1974) the overall population of the town was just over 5,0000. Today the population stands at approximately 26,000 and this was one reason why the town centre was so congested. But all in good taste.
One of the big winners on the night were the food sellers. Jamaicans love their food and at every turn there was a jerk chicken vendor, fry fish stall, the ice cream man and the peanut-men. My mates and I opted for a quiet restaurant where we scoffed some quality baked chicken and oxtail (@ 5pm) which we knew would keep us adequately filled for the rest of the evening.
The other big winner of Gran Market must have been the local hairdressers given the hairstyles that were on show by many of the local ladies. Their hairstyles were the sublime spectacle of Gran Market night.
Many a sound system blasted away at strategic points along East and West Street but as usual very few of the revellers bothered to dance. Instead lots of posing and more posing. That’s what we do!
Despite the many challenges facing it’s residents, Gran Market is one day/night when Jamaicans leave their troubles of the year at home and venture into their town centres to celebrate and bond as a community. There is laughter, fun, warmth and a friendliness that makes you feel proud to have experienced this occasion after a gap of 25 years.
There is a general agreement amongst some Jamaicans that the best Gran Market always occurs in the town of Linstead, St Catherine. Something to consider for a future Jamaican Christmas Eve.