In Jamaican households, on the island and overseas, Christmas cake starts making appearances in cupboards and on dinner tables in the early days of December. People will tell you how many they’ve baked, or how many their mothers have baked. If they haven’t had a chance to soak fruits in brandy or wine, people will recount how many cakes they’ve bought at Pricemart, Megamart or Hi-Lo or who’s baking them one, two or five.
There’s nothing that says “This is the festive season” or more encapsulates the holidays than Christmas cake. A house without a decorated Evergreen, poinsiettas, or garlands is acceptable, but nothing could be more unheard of or Scrooge-like than a house without a Christmas fruit cake.
Thirty-seven hours and three layovers after leaving Vietnam, Jamaica’s sun and breeze welcomed me in November. For the two months that I was here, the vista of the island never ceased to enthrall. Country visits to the different parishes of Portland, St. James, St. Mary, St. Thomas and St. Ann, reminded me, as my mother says, that “Jamaica is not just sun and sea.”
The exquisitiness and ruggedness of the island’s landscape: the sprawling green hills surrounding Kingston, visible from every viewpoint; plentiful pink, purple and white bougainvillea colliding with opening hibiscuses, pink heliconia and deep-purple plumbago; night blooming jasmine scenting gardens of green and brick; the sea, varying shades of blue, from crystal egg-white blue to baby blue to aquamarine to navy to indigo; the latticework of lights dancing on the sea; the sea, as warm as a child’s bath; fruit tumbling out of baskets: firm East Indian mangoes, yellow June plums, green oranges; and the soft soft breeze sweeping in every morning before the sun grandstanded and dominated until dusk.
There is no utopia, and Jamaica, as warm and rich in beauty as it is, isn’t one. It wasn’t lost on me that prices of basic items are more expensive than need be (triple and quadruple what they cost in every other country I’d visited in 2015), every day is still too much of a struggle for many, and customer service, sadly, still has much room for improvement.
It was also evident that if I permanently lived in Jamaica, my mobility and lifestyle would be restricted; all my friends are busy raising kids, and the Jamaica I knew years ago is no longer; so, it was time to end this period of regrouping and recollecting and greet a place where more freedom resides.
Last night, after dinner, my mother and I shared the last portion of Christmas cake.. We ate in satisfied silence, and I thought, “This is the last slice of cake, which coincides with the end of my holiday.” In the back of my mind, my dear aunt’s voice echoed, “Go, and do what you have to do.”