EASTER TRADITIONS IN JAMAICA
Easter in Jamaica is a very popular time of year. The holiday was introduced to the island around the 17th century by the Europeans who brought with them their religion, Christianity. During the slavery period, the enslaved Africans were given a day off in observance of this Easter holiday. However, it was not until the 19th century, when missionaries were active in the island, that the slaves really referred to the holiday as Easter and understood its significance.
In Jamaica over the years, the one-day holiday grew to be a four to five day observance, beginning with Holy Thursday and continuing until the following Monday, known as Easter Monday. Some Christian denominations use this time to observe the death and resurrection of Christ.
Like any other holiday, Easter is associated with several traditions. Probably the most common feature of Easter in Jamaica is the eating of bun and cheese. Easter buns in Jamaica are made with lots of spices, dried fruits and stout. The dough is shaped in the form of a loaf, which when baked, is wrapped in cellophane paper and sometimes packed in decorative boxes.
No one seems to be sure of how this tradition began, however, it is believed that the Easter buns eaten here in Jamaica were derived from the English tradition of having Hot Cross buns on Good Friday. Buns were first introduced by Greeks and Egyptians around 1500 B.C. who baked cakes which bore images of the horns of oxen in honour of the goddess Eastre the 'queen of heaven'. However, early church fathers decided to make a version of this cake to suit their purpose. So, using the same dough as the bun made by the Greeks and Egyptians, they made buns with the symbol of the crucifix carved into them, thus the name Hot Cross buns. These buns were distributed to the congregation at Good Friday masses.
Another common practice at Easter time is attending church on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. On Good Friday, congregants generally dress in black to attend the three hour service which usually begins at noon. The black is symbolic of the death of Christ. On Easter Sunday, however, the colour of choice is white, in celebration of Jesus' resurrection.
The use of Easter lilies in décor is also common at this time. The connection between this special type of lily and Easter seems to lie in the belief that these lilies sprung up where Christ's sweat fell to the ground while he was on the cross. It is also said that they were found growing in the Garden of Gethsemane after Jesus' death. The flower is said to symbolize purity, innocence and virtue, symbolic of the resurrection of Jesus.
Two of the more interesting practices associated with Easter in Jamaica is the setting of an egg to predict one's future and cutting of the Physic nut tree at noon on Good Friday. For the first, the white of an egg is placed in a glass of water prior to the sun rising on Good Friday. As the sun rises, a pattern is formed by the egg white, for instance, of a ship or aircraft or a coffin. Locals believe that this is indicative of what will happen in the future of the person who set the egg white, travel or death.
It is believed in some rural areas that Jesus' cross was made from wood obtained from a tree similar to our Physic nut tree. As such, it is said that if this tree is cut at noon on Good Friday, the sap will have a reddish colour symbolic of the blood of Christ that flowed while he was on the cross. Though many believe that this is true, there are those who believe that this is just a myth.
Though the traditions are varied, one thing that is common for most Jamaicans is that Easter is a sacred time of the year which is used to reflect on the sacrifice that Jesus made for humankind on the cross.