Holidaze 2011

I’m not big on holidays but holidays in Jamaica are pretty central during our time there.  We run the gamut of the “biggies”, arriving before Thanksgiving and leaving well after New Years.

It’s nice to escape the Christmas hype of the USA to a place where the holiday doesn’t center around consumerism or the Gross National Product.  We celebrate quietly with our friends and neighbors and the holidays come and go with little to no notice.  As years go by our traditions get more locked in…with subtle changes along the way.

The most fulfilling holiday experience I had this year was to help with the packaging up of the gift bags for St. Anthony’s Soup Kitchen’s families.  We gathered early one morning a week before Christmas at St. Mary’s Catholic church on the Beach Road.  We were met by Father Jim, a Franciscan Friar who is the Parish Priest.  I’ve never really spent any time with any type of clergy person so I didn’t know what to expect.  Slight in stature but large in heart, this man is, in short, a wonderful and warm human being.  His generosity knows no bounds and his spirit is pure.  The man’s contribution to the community is enormous.  When a stray dog got fatally injured by a car on the road in front of the Soup Kitchen, Father Jim performed last rites on the animal.

So it was us four volunteers, Father Jim and a sweet boy, mentally challenged and a neighbor to the church that got to work on the huge pile of stuff donated by earthly angels from all over.  We organized the table by item – books, school supplies, clothing, shoes, toys, etc and then assembled bags that were age and gender appropriate.  We covered everyone – infants to teenagers – and everyone got a toothbrush and toothpaste to boot.

The morning sped by quickly and by mid-afternoon we’d assembled 100 bags, each tied up nicely with a festive ribbon.  The bags were to be distributed on Christmas morning, along with bags of food that each family would get that would include a chicken, rice, sugar, cornmeal, etc. at the Soup Kitchen.

A few days later Les and I prepared for our Annual Hanukkah Party at our house.  Hanukkah is often called the “Jewish Christmas” but that really is a sad misrepresentation of what the holiday actually is.  Hanukkah is also known as the “festival of lights” and memorializes yet another battle won by the Jews against all odds.  It also celebrates the miracle of one night’s worth of oil managing to light the Second Temple’s eternal light for eight days until more oil could be pressed.  The celebration includes the retelling of the story, which is Roberta’s purvue since she knows it best.  We light a Menorah – a candelabra with nine holders, each night for eight nights to honor the miracle.  We eat fried foods – potato latkes is most traditional, again, it’s that oil thing.  While Les fried up the latkes, I made applesauce from scratch using a few American-style apples I found at HiLo and the wonderful spices of Jamaica.

We hosted a little more than a dozen guests that evening, munching on latkes, drinking wine and making merry.  For a holiday such as this it is always such a blessing to have children celebrating with us.  Tanya had her twin girls with her and our thirteen year old neighbor came by with his sixteen year old cousin to celebrate.

We “did” Christmas again this year at our friend’s home on Westland Mountain Road.  She runs a Guest House so this year in particular our Christmas table was quite international – representing the USA, Canada, England, France and Sweden.  We feasted on Turkey with all the trimmings as well as Rice and Pea and traditional English Mincemeat Pie.

I love Boxing Day.  It’s not a holiday celebrated in the USA but it should be.  I usually love to go to Long Bay and hang out with all the Jamaicans that come down to mix with the tourists and enjoy the sand and sea.   I didn’t make it there this year but for the second year in a row our neighbor Hermine opened up her Bun-Bun Shop for a neighborhood “block” party.  Tunes played starting at sunset into the night and Hermine served up her famous fried chicken and festival.  We laughed and danced with our neighbors, our celebration spilling out into the street.

I can’t say I varied much from our usual New Years Eve plan.  We started out at Canoe, stopped at PeeWees to wish Janet a Happy New Year and then ended up at LTU.

LTU was packed – “everyone” was there.  22Pac was spinning tunes, the champagne flowing (though the Coconut Rum was not) and we all danced and rang in the New Year together.  At around 2:00am we made our next traditional move – up Hylton Ave. to our friend’s for some after-partying and sunrise watching from his rooftop.

We were once again awed and amazed at the changing morning sky, the Roosters crowing their “Happy New Year” song and being in the company of us die-hard “Sunrise Clubbers”.

New Years Eve remains my favorite holiday.  Despite the “sameness” in its celebration year to year, as 2012 unfolded before our eyes, the possibilities and the opportunities of a fresh start did as well.

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2 Responses to Holidaze 2011

  1. nicole leven says:

    I just LOVED reading your blog. I’ve visited Negril many times with my husband and friends and this year, I’ve convinced my Italian American mother to put down the carving knife and get on a plane.for a family trip to Negril. It will be my parents first time as well as my sister’s and her husbands.
    I’d love to have Christmas dinner somewhere festive. We LOVE Canoe and plan on going while on this trip but not for Christmas dinner. Do you have any suggestions? We arrive on the 25th. I was thinking Ivan’s but I want somewhere with a vibe. I’d like to wow them all! My mom’s already asking about a “tree” so I’m thinking I can distract her with a really authentic experience! Also, my husbands bday is boxing day – I’m.wondering if LTU might be a good choice. We really mist try Zimbali. My mom and sister are both cooks (my sister a pastry chef) and I think they’d really enjoy. Lastly, I’d like to bring some.gifts for the kids! Is this common practice?
    Thanks for your.time and for sharing your.stories.
    Best,
    Nicole

    • First, I strongly encourage you to try Zimbali – its an experience not just a dinner or lunch. I suggest you do the afternoon excursion, they will pick you up and drop you back off. You’ll tour their 7 acre farm with a guide who knows everything about what’s growing there be it food or healing herbs and plants. Then you’ll be treated to an engaging cooking demonstration using ingredients grown on the farm and will be treated to an EXCELLENT 3 course lunch – with wine or champagne! As far as your Christmas Dinner – it really depends on what you want. If you want fancy and atmosphere but can do away with the turkey and stuffing – LTU is great choice, Ivans even better. Both do a fusion type of cuisine – Jamaican/North American – delicious and the ambiance is great. If you want to go for the elusive turkey dinner, Seastar might be your place. Not as fancy but more of a party – definitely casual and loose. Charela Inn on the beach is great too, especially for that pastry chef – they bake on premises their own baguettes and dessert pastries – their chocolate eclairs are to die for. My friend and I started a “tradition” where we go to Charela for a light meal and some Pol Roger champagne (spendy but you won’t find that kind of champagne anywhere else in Jamaica, much less Negril). We get appetizers and desserts – always escargot, something else off the appy menu and finish up with one of their mouth watering eclairs. As far as gifts for the kids, absolutely, people bring them all the time. Most popular are school related items – pens, pencils, markers…you’ll be coming during a school holiday so you won’t be able to visit a school but you can make your donations directly to Father Jim at St. Mary’s Catholic Church on the beach road. A visit with the father is always so nice too – he’s wonderful, he’s the only clergyman I’ve really ever “liked”.

      Have a great trip – I’m excited for you!

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