Jamaican Christmas :: The John Canoe or Jonkonnu has a very long tradition as a folk festival, incorporating both African and European forms. The ‘Jonkonnu’ Festival is secular in nature and its performance at Christmas time is merely historical. It was conceived as a festive opportunity afforded the slave class by the planter class, as Christmas was one of the few periods when the slaves were relieved of their duties. Hence, Christmas formed an appropriate season for festivities as all normal business activity on the island was halted by official decree and all males were called up for military service, augmenting the population in the larger towns. Therefore, ample opportunity was given to the slaves to show off their talents to the spectators who had also been given time off from work.
Traditional Jonkonnu most often includes as core participants, the cow head, the horsehead, the devil, the different categories of warriors and Indians, as well as a character known as Pitchy-Patchy.
The more popular characters are quite worthy of further mention as their presence in the festival evoked an admixture of fear and excitement in onlookers.