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Jamaican Christmas Dinner Menu Ideas

I usually know exactly what I'm making for Christmas a month or two in advance. In Jamaica, we have many traditional holiday foods.

Here are some Jamaican Christmas dinner menu ideas to inspire your own celebration!

Here are some Jamaican Christmas dinner menu ideas to inspire your own celebration!

Jamaican Christmas Dinner Traditions

In some countries, the traditional holiday dinner takes place on Christmas Eve. In Jamaica, however, this meal traditionally occurs on the afternoon of Christmas Day, anywhere between 2 and 5 p.m. It usually involves a large gathering of family members who come from far and wide. Each person brings a dish to contribute to the holiday table, and the result is a delicious, celebratory feast.

My family is small, and most of my relatives live abroad, so I'm not able to have a large, traditional family gathering. My own tradition is to invite people who I know might otherwise spend the holiday alone. I also usually try to include someone who is needy, or I might bring a plate over to someone who isn't able to attend a gathering.

Must-Haves for the Holiday Table

In Jamaica, the following foods are among the most important Christmas culinary traditions:

  • Gungo peas and rice: During the rest of the year, a very common, everyday side dish in Jamaica is red kidney beans and rice. When the holiday season rolls around, however, the red kidney beans are replaced with green gungo peas, also known as pigeon peas.
  • Sorrel: A traditional holiday drink made from the sorrel flower, this beverage is stewed with ginger and spices before being mixed with rum.
  • Christmas pudding: This is a traditional holiday cake made with fruits soaked in wine or rum.

A Note About Christmas Ham

I live deep in the countryside where some people are very poor, and many people are unfamiliar with foods from other cultures. For example, many people in my neck of the woods have never had ham before—or at least not the way you might know it, anyway. My grandparents used to prepare a pork leg for the holidays by curing it for a few days with salt, then boiling and roasting it. Those traditions are now extinct, though.

The upper and upper-middle classes in Jamaica often prepare a ham for Christmas. In rural areas, people usually roast pork, beef, and chicken. Some will prepare curried goat, as well. Since I grew up in an upper-middle-class home, I was exposed to culinary traditions from other cultures, including the Christmas ham or turkey and stuffing.

What Is on My Menu This Year

Originally, I had planned to use this menu last year, but I had to change tack at the last minute because I couldn't get the turkey in time. This year, I am getting a head start to make sure I get everything I need on time.

  • Roast turkey: Roasted in the oven with my special marinade consisting of white wine and fresh herbs blended together and rubbed all over. I will make a few incisions in the skin and then rub some of the marinade between the skin and the meat.
  • Stuffing: I will be making the traditional cornbread version for my fiance's sake.
  • Oven-baked mac and cheese: This is my special recipe, which uses three kinds of cheese (cream cheese, cheddar, and mozzarella), semi-heavy cream, and sweet peppers, topped with herb-seasoned bread crumbs.
  • Potato salad: This is made with corn, cheese, green peas, and carrots and garnished with parsley.
  • Green salad: Lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, sliced olives, apple slices, and grapes topped with a homemade vinaigrette dressing are the components of this salad.
  • Grilled or roasted tofu: We top ours with a spicy strawberry jelly sauce. The sauce is made using strawberry jelly, preserves, or jam boiled with hot peppers and sugar to get the right consistency. This sauce can also be served with pork or turkey.
  • Gungo peas and rice
  • Christmas pudding
  • Sorrel
Traditional cornbread stuffing is a must.

Traditional cornbread stuffing is a must.

What Was on My Menu Last Year

Last year was my fiancé's first time having a traditional Christmas ham. He'd had a makeshift version of the ham, much like the kind my grandparents used to make, in which the pork leg is cured, boiled, and roasted. However, that version is not smoked, and it does not have the same texture and taste as the traditional Christmas ham.

  • Cranberry glazed Christmas ham: This is a first for my fiancé!
  • Roast chicken: Our chicken is seasoned with rosemary and olive oil. Poultry is a must for our holiday table.
  • Oven-baked mac and cheese
  • Green salad
  • Gungo peas and rice
  • Christmas pudding
  • Sorrel
Sautéed string beans make my mom's menu.

Sautéed string beans make my mom's menu.

My Mom's Menu

This is my mom's holiday dinner menu, which she created herself. After 24 years of living and working in the United States, she looks forward to the many traditional Jamaican foods of the holiday season.

For this particular menu, our gathering included Mom, my fiancé, myself, my two brothers, and a couple of guests. The last time we had duck was when I was around six years old, so my mom wanted to include duck on this menu.

  • Stewed or roast duck
  • Roast pork
  • Sautéed string beans
  • Cole slaw in lettuce cups
  • Green salad
  • Fried ripe plantains
  • Breadfruit salad
  • Gungo peas and rice
  • Christmas pudding
  • Sorrel

More Menu Ideas

In addition to the many holiday items listed above, here are some more menu ideas:

  • Curried goat
  • Grilled chicken
  • Roast beef
  • Fish
  • Boiled green bananas
  • Shredded cabbage salad with cucumbers and tomatoes
  • Candied potatoes

General Considerations

Your Christmas dinner menu should take into consideration:

  • Number of guests
  • Budget
  • Dietary restrictions: For instance, if anyone at the table is vegetarian, or if anyone has a medical condition, such as hypertension or diabetes.
  • Time: If you are pressed for time, your menu should be simpler.
  • Time of day: When dinner is served may also play a role. An earlier meal may not require as many dishes.
  • Culture: Every culture brings with it its own culinary traditions.

Share Your Menu Ideas

Do you have more menu ideas, or do you think I should change or add something? Kindly share your thoughts in the comments section below. Your ideas are highly appreciated.

May your Christmas be peaceful and blessed. Remember to share the love. Have a blessed holiday, and may you have peace and prosperity in the new year.

© 2012 Carolee Samuda