To Christmas or not? Jamaicans opt for budget-conscious holiday Loop Jamaica

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News Loop News

Christmas traditions in Jamaica seem to be gradually losing their grip each year, as some Jamaicans show a diminishing adherence to long-standing customs.

The thrill of putting up the Christmas tree and lights has waned over the years, with people now seemingly more focused on stretching their dollar.

Christmas tree vendors in Half Way Tree have reported a fluctuating trend in sales since they commenced on December 1, reflecting a noticeable lull in consumer activity.

For 30-year veteran tree seller Margaret Edwards of Penlyne Castle, “some of the days down bad, bad. You have to throw them (the trees) away,” she said. 

“People haven’t come out as yet,” Edwards reasoned though expressing optimism that things will pick up toward the big day.

Christmas trees are priced at an average of $2000 per foot. Edwards often reduces the price further as customers haggle over the cost.

The same rings true for Denzil Ffrench, who has also been selling Christmas trees in Half Way Tree for over 30 years. 

“It’s a family business. My father is here too,” Ffrench said as he tried to lure a buyer.

Ffrench

The trees take at least two to three years to mature, with the cost of fertilizers averaging $10,000 per bag. 

Though he is not totally dependent on sales of the trees since he also cultivates other crops, Ffrench said he is still praying for a good season of sales.

“Some days you make money, some days nothing,” he said.

“Last year was a better year. The year before wasn’t as good. It used to be a lot better before COVID-19. It has been tight ever since, Ffrench said.

He sells roughly eight to ten trees on a good day, with brisker sales on the weekends.

Ffrench is also hoping for sales to pick up closer to Christmas day.

His small trees average $6,000 to $8,000. Those over six feet sell for between $8,000 to $12,000. 

“It all depends on the size you want to buy,” he said. 

Cultivation is quite labour intensive and requires him to hire field hands to weed and care for the plants, he said, but it is a labour of love spanning generations in his family. 

Meanwhile, with consumers told to brace for higher food prices, some Jamaicans told Loop News they are being very cautious with their spending this Christmas.

President of the May Pen Vendors’ Association, Lorraine Green Mason, signalled increased prices leading up to Christmas as farmers continue to recover from the effects of recent flood rains. 

She said it would cost more for sorrel, escallion, lettuce and onions this Christmas season.

Sorrel is being sold for roughly $350 per pound in many towns across the island, this reporter has found. Some vendors were also over-heard planning to increase this and other costs even further “in the week before Christmas.”

Farmers in the breadbasket parish of St Elizabeth have also told consumers to expect higher prices for ground provisions despite a recent report from the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) that the availability of popular agricultural commodities is expected to drive down the prices of certain crops.

Loop News spoke to a few Jamaicans regarding their spending plans this Christmas:

Mildred (50): 

I’m going to pinch the little that I have because I have no idea what next year or next month will look like. Things have gotten too expensive. Plus, I don’t celebrate Christmas.

Anisha (40):

I haven’t put up any Christmas lights or tree for years now. I cannot afford it. And I don’t to avoid having to worry about my finances after Christmas, I don’t plan to spend any extra.  

Fionna (43):

As a promoter, I have seen that people started shopping as early as October for things like Christmas decorations. To me, it seems people are spending more this year. But, personally, I will be spending on food items mainly.

Nordia (45):

I will not be putting up any Christmas lights at all because I am afraid of JPS. My finances have not improved this year. I think it has gotten worse because everything has escalated where food is concerned. Financially, my family is just hanging by a thread and behaving ourselves with the spending until Christmas is over. I refuse to overspend. I buy what is necessary, because come new year, it is going to be rough. I expect it will be worse than in 2023.

Dion (47):

I’m in a better place financially but I still won’t be putting up any Christmas tree. I’m pulling back and spending only on what is necessary to stabilize and improve my financial standing even more.

Paula (50): 

I will be decorating because it’s something the children look forward to. We do it for them. Financially, it has been extremely difficult this year with my spending power being reduced drastically. I seem to be spending twice as much on groceries as I did last year. Utilities increase monthly even with reduced usage so it is becoming harder to spend on budget or even save. I felt more financially stable last year. I’m just trying my best to spend less money and spend more quality time with family and friends.

Leonie (60): 

I cannot afford JPS bills. I don’t have a husband. I depend on my children and the blessing of God so I have to live one day at a time. No extra spending for me.

Janal (38):

Things are a bit better than last year. I have already put up my Christmas tree because I have a young child who looks forward to it. I think the economy is doing much better than two years ago, but that festive feeling where you looking forward to the parties and gatherings is not there. I’m just looking for a little rest and to save – not spend, so no painting or buying new sheets, curtains and those traditions for me. 

Jenni 30:

I’m still contemplating whether I should put up Christmas lights. As a civil servant, I’m taking home less pay. I don’t plan to do any extravagant spending for one day (Christmas). I plan to enjoy it with family and friends and without the extra spending of food and unnecessary things.