Is There a Right and a Wrong Way to Celebrate National Holidays?

July 24th, 2016

The Independence and Emancipation Day holidays are nearly upon us (I refuse to use the word “Emancipendence.” Whoever thought that one up?) How quickly the year has passed! It’s as if the holiday is a kind of marker; from here on, the year just slips away until Christmas arrives. Another year done! Tempus fugit.

Recently, the words of a Cultural Ambassador (I was not aware of this position, and assume it is an official government post) Amina Blackwood-Meeks, got me thinking. She asserted that holding parties during the holidays was “inappropriate.” Furthermore, she believes that such activities serve to fragment Jamaican society, rather than unite it around a common philosophy or national goal.

The Ambassador seems to be speaking on the premise that parties do not fit into some kind of cultural template that she believes is the correct one. Moreover, the Ambassador seems to be proposing that we should all be doing the same thing, at the same time. We could adopt the Cuban-style celebrations of national holidays, with crowds of citizens and flag-waving schoolchildren cheering and singing. The Cubans may well have no choice but to do this (especially the youth). And other Cubans might wish to do so; hopefully, they would have a choice in the matter.

"How does Jamaica PRIDE make you feel?" A lot of inappropriate words here, in particular the word "hopeful." (Pic from Facebook)

“How does Jamaica PRIDE make you feel?” A lot of inappropriate words here, in particular the word “hopeful.” (Pic from Facebook)

The Cultural Ambassador is particularly irritated by J-FLAG’s plans for their second Pride celebration. She believes it is wrong for “any little group to splinter off into their little corner” for their own private celebration. Well, this year J-FLAG is planning to celebrate the modicum of freedom and self-belief that the LGBT community has carved out for itself over the past twenty years or so. Yes, freedom. To quote from the Pride magazine: “Since conception we have stood against all odds. In an environment where impossibilities, sadness and gloom could have crippled us, we have not only defied but continued to grow and persevere in the face of adversity.” The magazine “focuses on the work we, our partners and allies have accomplished and how we continue to tackle issues around HIV stigma and discrimination, gender-based violence and civic engagements.” 

According to Ambassador Blackwood-Meeks, it is also inappropriate for J-FLAG “to come out in public and tell me what they do in the privacy of their bedroom and expect me to endorse it.” I am not sure that the group was expecting her endorsement, but I could check with them.

The Appleton Special Dream Weekend is not my personal "cup of tea," but I would defend their right to party - and to make some money, too! It's also part of the "tourism product," isn't it? (Photo:

The Appleton Special Dream Weekend is not my personal “cup of tea,” but I would defend their right to party – and to make some money, too! It’s also part of the “tourism product,” isn’t it? (Photo:

It’s not only J-FLAG who are out of line. The Cultural Ambassador doesn’t like the “people dem who produce rum” organizing big parties over the holidays. This is also inappropriate. One thing, though: those engaged in business – whether small, micro or the big boys like the rum producers – look forward to the holidays. It’s a time for making money, simply: doing photography assignments, doing deejaying or MC gigs, selling craft and souvenirs, curry goat meals, natural homemade juices or fancy vodka cocktails. Besides, people actually do enjoy themselves – including visitors from overseas – and look forward to the “fun in the sun” aspect of the holidays. After all, when people take holidays, they do want to have some fun. Is this so wrong?

The National Dance Theatre Company will be performing throughout the holiday period.

The National Dance Theatre Company will be performing throughout the holiday period.

Now, for those who wish to celebrate Independence and Emancipation in an “appropriate” manner, with the Ambassador’s stamp of approval, there are plenty of options. There is the Denbigh Agricultural Show on July 31/August 1, which is always packed and busy. Montego Bay is hosting a Jerk Festival, for those ever-hungry bellies. There are some cricket matches I believe, and the National Dance Theatre Company will be performing. There are one or two “conscious reggae” shows, which might pass muster as appropriate, depending on the number and quality of bad words used. And of course, the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission, (JCDC) has a whole raft of enjoyable cultural activities for young and old. I remember the literary events of the past two years were very well supported. There will always be an audience for these events, and long may they continue.

However, many Jamaicans, one suspects, will not celebrate the holidays the JCDC way. They may well celebrate, but in smaller groups; a youth club may organize a beach trip; a senior citizens’ organization may have a nice trip to the country, a picnic perhaps; a church group might go on a retreat; a family may organize a get-together at home, with plenty of food and drink, and perhaps a visiting relative or two from “farin” thrown in. These “splinter groups” are, one assumes, acceptable. They are allowed to do their own thing in their “corner.” Other groups are less acceptable, and are apparently not allowed to do as they please over the holidays. They must try to fit in – or simply keep a low profile!

Other hard-working Jamaicans may simply enjoy a little rest at home, catching up with some reading, watching movies or doing a little gardening if it’s not too hot; or spending a little more time at church or community meetings.

Culture Minister Olivia Grange has the right idea though. This year’s theme is: “Let’s Get Together and Feel Alright.” She wants Jamaicans to “show no political, class or religious divide.” The emphasis is, indeed on unity – but also it is on celebrating our diversity and our differences, rather than all doing the same thing, I would suggest. 

It’s not just that Ambassador Blackwood-Meeks sounds like a “killjoy.” She is missing the point. Elaborating on her displeasure at what she sees as fringe activities for the holidays, she pointed out that Emancipation had been “won on the blood, sweat and tears” of Jamaicans’ ancestors. We should not forget this, because it is perfectly true. But what were the ancestors fighting for?

Why, freedom of course. That’s what Emancipation is all about, last time I checked.

So whatever your plans are…Happy Emancipation Day, when it comes!


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