For many in Jamaica, Christmas Eve is a big event. As a child growing up on the island, I could always feel the Christmas spirit in the air once December hit. There was just a kind of excited buzz. The adults would be making all the food preparations for Christmas Day while my siblings and I offered "guinea pig" services, happily testing everything to make sure that the flavors were just right. We lacked the constant visual and musical reminders of the season that I now experience in the States, so while there was a palpable feeling of anticipation, Christmas cheer took its time coming.
Once school closed for the holiday, however, it was on. In our home, we would redouble our efforts to get everything done before Grand Market Night because to us kids, that was the climax of the season. Other families in other towns participated in events during the day as well, but for us, it was all about the night of Christmas Eve.
Come evening time, we'd dress in our finest clothes and head into the city with all of the pocket money we’d been saving. It always felt so liberating to go out and choose the gifts that “I” could purchase to give to the people I loved. When we arrived at the town center, our parents would tell us where to meet them and at what time, and then we were set free in little groups to go be consumers.
There was a lot happening. I remember walking around in Twin Gates Plaza, The Springs, Tropical Plaza, and sometimes King's Plaza. The higglers (street vendors) were everywhere, haggling with frenzied shoppers vying for the best deals. Street dancers were out dancing to reggae and dance hall music, and sometimes if we were lucky, we might even see Jonkunnu performers. This was Black Friday, Carnivale, and Christmas celebrations rolled into one night.
Vehicular traffic was restricted to make way for the throngs of pedestrians, so crossing multiple streets to get to the different shops was never an issue. We kept up with the crowd, bobbing and weaving from shop to shop, stall to stall, and to the occasional jerk stand or food vendor peddling the last of the day’s portions. It was always a thrill to furtively buy a gift for one of the siblings I was shopping with, and hiding it before they noticed.
No matter what we bought, we always saved a little money so that we could buy our favorite fire crackers: Starlight Rockets. After all the shopping was done and we were home again, we would sit out in the driveway, light our firecrackers, and set them off. We weren't the only ones.
Even though I moved away from the city and haven’t been to a Grand Market Night since I was around 12 years old, it left an indelible impression on me, and gave me many enduring, vivid memories. Life and I have both changed since then, but a scene, smell, or recollection can bring me right back to Grand Market Night. Those who’ve experienced one probably know what I’m talking about, and those who haven’t should jump at the chance.
Hi, I'm Bobbi and while I'll generally be posting here, I'll occasionally invite others to share as well.