Bursting with relaxed, friendly vibes, authentic jerk food, infectious reggae beats and countless gorgeous beaches and breathtaking waterfalls to explore, Jamaica has so much to offer as an island.
Whether you're considering marrying in Jamaica or are attending a wedding there, it's essential to know what to expect. Caribbean destination wedding planner Val Mattinson of Benessamy Weddings talks us through what to anticipate at a Jamaican wedding and traditions you might like to include if you're considering it for your big day.
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1. Goat's On the Menu
For those considering a Jamaican wedding, you'll want to embrace all the time-honoured flavours of the island, like curry goat.
"During your planning, consider embracing everything Jamaica has to offer by incorporating local flowers into your décor and include a menu that allows your guests to indulge in the local cuisine with wedding favourites like jerk chicken and curried goat," says Val.
In the past, couples would go together to select the goat to eat at the reception and it would be slow-cooked for hours to make it tender. Today, wedding caterers happily replicate the flavourful slow-cooking of the curry goat and fire up spicy jerk chicken on a BBQ with no need for the couple to take a pre-wedding trip to the farm!
Don't stop with just the food, recommends Val. "Have the bar stocked with local beer and, of course, rum, the real taste of the Caribbean."
Guests can expect a reception with rum punch on arrival and perhaps rum shots for the toasts.
2. It's All About the Cake
Any good wedding needs a showstopping cake, and there's nothing that'll get the reception started like a Jamaican Black Rum Cake.
"Traditional Jamaican wedding cakes are steeped in rum, moist and full of flavour, baked with a wonderful mix of aromatic spices," explains Val. Often the dried fruit in the cake will have been soaking in rum since the engagement so you can imagine how much of a punch it packs!
And the cake isn't just sitting, waiting to be cut either. "Traditionally, the wedding cake makes an entrance and is processed under a veil to keep it hidden until the time comes for it to be cut," says Val. It's a moment you'll definitely want to catch on camera.
3. Prepare Yourself for Tun T’anks Sunday
"As your guests will be travelling from far and wide to join you for your destination wedding, extend the celebrations beyond the wedding day by planning a traditional Tun T’anks Sunday," suggests Val.
"The wedding celebration doesn’t stop at the end of the reception. The Sunday following the wedding, guests are invited for further celebrations, cake and you guessed it…more rum!"
On Tun T’anks Sunday - the Sunday after the wedding - the couple and wedding party all go to church together. Afterwards, everyone heads back to the bride's house for a second reception which is often even larger than the first celebration! Customarily there's another rum cake, and the top layer is given to the vicar who performed the wedding ceremony, and the second layer is given to the newlyweds.
If you're having a wedding at a resort, you can adapt this tradition to throw a farewell party at the end of your guests' time on the island. Try and line it up for a Sunday so you can experience a traditional church service too, if that interests you.
4. Enjoy the Ceremony
As the main religion of Jamaica is Christianity, the wedding ceremony will be similar to one you'd have in the UK. You can, of course, opt for a civil ceremony and have a celebrant-led wedding (although you'll have to do the legal part of the wedding separately for a celebrant wedding).
The only difference is the giving away of the bride. This is commonly done by both her parents and you'll see the bride walk down the aisle with her mum and dad. If you're marrying in Jamaica, this can be a lovely tradition to adopt.
5. Put On Your Dancing Shoes
The reception will often continue all through the night, with guests dancing and drinking until sunrise. In the past, the reception would be held at the groom's house under a special booth made of coconut boughs and decorated with flowers. While this is not necessarily the case, you'll still find all those things weaved into the wedding decorations, especially local flowers like orchid and hibiscus.
You'll want to embrace the music of the Caribbean too, perhaps with a steel drum band for arrival, a reggae band for cocktail hour and a local DJ for the reception.
6. Go Big or Small
You might think of a Caribbean wedding as a huge affair, full of friends and family, but you'll find small weddings just as popular in Jamaica. You can marry in one of the many small chapels across the island for a private, intimate feel or choose a secluded option, like by a waterfall or beachside wedding. Many resorts will have their own dedicated wedding areas, such as a garden gazebo.
At local weddings, you'll find uninvited guests regularly show up to join in the festivities and it's expected and embraced. If you're taking over a local bar or restaurant for dancing, you might find a few extras turn up - hey, the more the merrier, right!
7. Gift Your Guests With the Island's Bounty
Wedding favours are a more recent tradition, but you can include some of the classic treats of Jamaica for yours.
Little bags of Blue Mountain Coffee - some of the world's rarest and renowned beans - make great wedding favours, as do little bottles of local rum. Red Stripe beer is brewed in Jamaica and your guests will love arriving to their hotel with a few cold cans waiting for them in their room, plus some extras like banana chips and tamarind balls.
8. Go With the Dress Code
Just because you're on a Caribbean island, it doesn't mean the dress code is beachwear. Jamaicans typically dress up for weddings and bright colours are common. It's really up to the dress code on the invitation what you choose to wear.
Remember that if the wedding is a place of worship, you should bring a jacket or wrap to cover sleeveless or strapless dresses.
9. It'll Be a Whole Experience
A destination wedding goes beyond the day itself. "Your destination wedding in Jamaica will be more than sun, sea and sand (although just that sounds so inviting, doesn’t it?). Getting married in Jamaica will give you the opportunity to explore island’s beautiful lagoons, waterfalls and luxurious landscapes," says Val.
Locals will often have plenty of celebrations leading up to the wedding, so it's a great idea to have dinner and drinks the night before and plan activities and excursions for those staying on at the hotel. Some of the must-see sights of Jamaica include Dunn's River Falls, the capital Kingston and the Bob Marley Museum, hiking in the Blue Mountains, and spending the day at bars like the legendary Rick's Café, known for its cliff jumping. If you're party animals, there's no lack of amazing nightlife too.
A wedding in Jamaica is about the whole celebration experience, and a wedding planner can help you come up with an incredible itinerary.
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