The approach of a new year can be either joyful or sorrowful depending on what was accomplished in the year winding down. Jamaicans follow various traditions to give thanks for the closing year and welcome the new one. Traditions of celebrating the new year can run the gamut from making resolutions to spending time with family. In this article we outline the most popular new year traditions of Jamaicans.
1. New Year Resolutions
Jamaicans are no different from people of other nationalities. They make resolutions designed to improve their quality of life. Unfortunately, early in the new year, these go out the window and only the most focused keep the promises made to themselves. At my last gym class for the year 2020, only 2 students showed up out of a class of 10. The coach remarked, “My class will swell in the first month of the new year then it will dwindle; it happens every year!"
2. ‘Watch Night’ Service
December 31 is appropriately titled ‘watch night’ as many stay up late or ‘bleach’ to see the start of the New Year. A huge segment of the population believes in attending church on December 31 to "watch" for the new year. Church attendance is a good start to the year—even if a party or ‘session’ is the next stop after leaving church. For devout Christians, it is a chance to thank God for his provision, protection, and favor in the past and upcoming year.
Despite their illegal status, firecrackers or ‘clappas’ make their way through the ports and into the island every year. At midnight on December 31, explosions continue for five to ten minutes. Reckless adults and children put fingers and other body parts at risk of injury while lighting and throwing ‘clappas’. Animals take shelter until the barrage is over.
As a child, I would use my "Christmas money" to buy firecrackers and starlights (fireworks), unaware of the danger I put myself in.
4. New Year’s Eve Ball
Finding money for a pricey New Year’s Eve ball is challenging, but it is a sacrifice some make to treat their spouse to a wonderful evening. It is customary to show up at a club, hotel, or restaurant dressed to the ‘eye-teeth’ or in keeping with the evening’s theme. Even if you’re not in attendance, you can live the experience by peeking in on those parties covered by radio or television stations. The next best thing is to find a spot that fits into your budget and ring in a new year to remember with that special someone.
5. Fireworks on the Harbor
This yearly, breath-taking fireworks display, is not to be missed. Approximately 250,000 people from far and near gather on Ocean Boulevard, downtown Kingston to watch this spectacle. Apart from the fireworks, there’s a kids’ play area, craft village, and a stage show, featuring popular local artistes.
Those who live in the surrounding areas, and can’t attend, take part by viewing the fireworks from their rooftops. The event is televised to more than one million persons in Jamaica and the diaspora.
6. No Dirty Laundry
A drastic cleaning session welcomes the Christmas season. It is unheard of to have piles of dirty laundry waiting to welcome the new year. Even if it is impossible to have everything squeaky clean, Jamaicans try their best to keep ‘dutty clothes’ at a minimum when the new year hits.
7. Family Time
The best part of celebrating a new year is time spent with family. It is normal to pack up the car and take a trip to the beach, which is crowded on New Year’s Day, since this is a traditional past time for many.
New Year’s Day is filled with laugher and joy and those who are overseas are brought closer by phone calls, texts and memes supplied in abundance on the internet. What can be better than touching base with loved ones to celebrate life and love at the start of a new year?
This year (2020/2021), activities will be curtailed as measures put in force to limit the spread of Covid-19 include strict curfews, beach closure, social distancing, hand sanitizing/washing and social distancing. Some Jamaicans have been breaking these measures thereby putting others at risk. Law enforcement officers are investigating these illegal parties and taking a soft approach so as not to put their lives at risk.
Quote: “Work is the bridge between dreams and accomplishment.”
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Jacqueline Cameron is an editor, writer and researcher with years of writing experience running the gamut from blogging to reporting. She lives in Kingston, Jamaica and is the chief editor for the Jamaica So Nice Blog. She is a trained engineer and musician and loves to see people transformed through her work.