BY JEDIAEL CARTER—
It is not hard for one to see that the Easter holiday in Jamaica is not as religious and sacred as it once was.
Practices that were once unholy and unthinkable have now become the norm, as some Jamaicans no longer view Easter as the time to commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The holiday which constitutes, Good Friday (Jesus’ crucifixion day), Easter Sunday (day of resurrection) and Easter Monday, is the longest holiday weekend in Jamaica. Instead of indulging in traditional practices, some Jamaicans opt to attend parties, while others stay home and enjoy the break from work. The Jamaica Observer sought some Easter traditions that are not as popular in recent times as they once were.
(1) BEWARE OF THE BEACH
“One time I was at the river on a rock and the force of the water pushed me off into the river. I almost drowned and when they managed to fish me out the water, my mother was there quite upset. I did get a beating that day,” he recounted.
“Easter was far more religious when I was younger, than it is now,” he said, admitting he isn’t a Christian.
(2) EGG PREDICTING FUTURE
The destiny of some Jamaicans rested heavily on an egg and the shape it took when placed in a container of water on Holy Thursday or before sunrise on Good Friday. It’s aim, Sainia Davis explained, was to give Jamaicans an idea of what was ahead for the individual. She remembered how her mother would use an egg to get a view of the family’s future.
“My mother used to put the egg white in water and it would form the shape of something. I remember vividly one year it looked like an airplane, which meant she was going to travel.”
Similarly, if the egg had formed the shape of a ship, it would be interpreted as a future where one would travel or migrate. If ,however, the shape of a casket was formed, Jamaicans would believe that their future would bring death.
(3) TEMPORARY LIFESTYLE CHANGE
So Holy was the holiday that in Davis’ household there was a particular way to eat bread throughout the holy period.
“During Lent (40 days after Ash Wednesday leading up to Easter Sunday) my father didn’t want us to slice the bread, they didn’t have hard dough sliced bread in those days, and we had to break the bread to eat it. Him say Jesus say we mus break bread,” Davis stated.
“I defy him every year but he never knew who kept cutting it,” she admitted.
Similarly, many Jamaicans refrain from red meat from the start of Lent through to Easter. In light of this, fish tends to be the protein of choice during the Easter period.
(4) NO BUSINESS
Business operators also observe the sacredness of the Easter holiday as they would close their enterprises for the day.
(5) BARE PALM SUNDAY
Palm trees would often be left bare during Easter, especially on Palm Sunday — the Sunday before Easter. Christians commemorate Palm Sunday as Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, wherein the crowd scattered the leaves in front of Jesus as he rode into the city.
“I remember on Palm Sunday they used to break coconut tree leaves and carry to church. There is also this type of palm tree that has ‘macka’ at the tip of the leaves and they used to say those were what Jesus used to wrap his head,” one man stated.
Church had to be included in any plans for Easter. After all, it is in fact a Christian holiday being celebrated. Years gone by church would have been the only places to be.
“We would have to wake up early and go to church on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We would also watch the crucifixion story on TV, if you nuh watch that in Easter, Easter not complete,” Rita English stated.
“You know that church service would be long. In the church I went to as a child, there were seven different preachers on Good Friday. I went to a Baptist church, not all the churches did that but my branch did that.”
The seven preachers, were representative of the seven ‘last words’ Jesus spoke while on the cross, all taken from different gospels. The seven words are — “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34); “This day you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43); “Woman, behold your son” (John 19:26-27); “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34; Matthew 27:46); “I thirst” (John 19:28); “It is finished” (John 19:30); “Into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). The preachers, according to English, would speak on each statement.
Even the apparel was dictated during English’s childhood.
“I also remember that on the Friday, we were supposed to wear dark clothes, because that’s the day Jesus died. On the Sunday now we would wear cheerful colours because Jesus rose again,” she said.
(7) BLEEDING TREE
On Good Friday, the Physic Nut Tree is usually cut at noon as persons believe the sap from the tree becomes blood red. This is thought to be a symbol of the blood Christ bled during crucifixion.
“I have never experienced it but I have heard of it,” Davis stated.
(8) SOOTHING RAIN WATER
In some rural communities, if it rained on Good Friday, Jamaicans would collect containers of the rain water, which they thought had soothing elements.
“Persons in my community would catch the rain water and store it to be used for getting rid of pain. They would sap the area that’s hurting with the water,” one woman explained.