We may be reaching the peak of the Christmas holiday season and making plans for the New Year’s celebrations. After that, many of us think of the coming months as quieter times to just deal with the winter weather, whether that means lots of dreary and grey days or lots of snow and ice. However, just after Christmas is done, the Caribbean gets into full gear for its Carnival season.
As one expert said, “Once Christmas season is officially over in the Caribbean, it’s time to dig out your dancing shoes and start thinking about Carnival, that hedonistic celebration that culminates on Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. (In the United States, that day and this celebration are known as Mardi Gras.)”
While many of us are well aware of that lead up to the Lenten season as it is done in places like New Orleans, few of us realize that the entire Caribbean area celebrates this in a big way, too. If you are booking a winter’s getaway now, you can consider February and March as a busy time with lots of partying likely to occur if it is getting closer to Fat Tuesday.
However, the word “carnival,” in the Caribbean is not tied only to Lent and traditional concepts of carnival. Instead, as that same expert explained, “Carnival in the Caribbean has a complicated birthright. It’s tied to colonialism, religious conversion, and ultimately freedom and celebration. The festival originated with Italian Catholics in Europe, and it later spread to the French and Spanish, who brought the pre-Lenten tradition with them,” where it spread to places as far-reaching as Trinidad and the entire Caribbean.
It was with the abolition of slavery in the 1830s, though that carnival began to take its new forms in the area. The recently freed peoples of the islands started to celebrate the season with dancing, music and special garments. This, today, is what has become carnival and why we see such things as masquerade parades and events, special music and lots and lots of dancing. There are formal balls as well as street parties and parades, and below are some of the best to experience during your winter holiday to the region.
Barbados – Crop Over
This is actually a harvest festival rather than a freedom celebration and it is usually a three-month affair that runs during the summer months of July and August. As one site explains, though the tradition began in the late 1600s, today it is the largest Caribbean festival on Barbados.
It “celebrates all that is Bajan with dusk till dawn parties, arts and crafts markets and a culinary-driven street fares. Grand Kadooment Day celebrates the end of Crop Over, where Masquerade Bands make their way to Spring Garden highway with revelers dressed in sequin costumes decorated with colorful feathers, jewels, and bright accents; dancing behind music trucks and moving bars.
Here too, the carnival event is a summer celebration rather than a classic carnival happening. Running for the months of June and July, it is as another site explains, “variety of competitions including the ever-popular Power and Groovy Monarch, Senior and Junior Panoramas (Steel Pan Competitions), and the Inter-Commercial House Calypso completion, dozens of community events, and of course a continuous calendar of parties and fetes.” The real climax of the St Lucia Carnival is the two-day street parade that features amazing carnival costumes, loads of music and DJs, and tons of Caribbean food. It is “as one of the top Carnivals in the Caribbean and becomes a more vibrant and creative event each year.”
Clearly, that means anyone who wishes to participate will want to book their luxury villas as soon as possible to guarantee a chance to experience it for themselves in 2020.
Known for its world-famous regatta, the island is also one to celebrate the end of slavery and pair it with a seasonal harvest festival every July through August. It has its most important day known as J’ouvert and this is when brass and steel bands compete in an island-wide event. The list of events is extensive and includes an almost endless number of parades, pageants and contests. There are musical parades and competitions, food and cooking contests, drinking competitions and more.
When J’ouvert arrives, however, events kick off at 3 AM and continue until midnight of the next day!
The only Caribbean island area that has a winter season carnival is St Martin, with dates in February and March of each year. It emphasizes the heritage of the island and as one site explains, is “like mixing New Year’s revelry, costumed parades and lots of loud calypso, soca and steelpan band music together. While Trinidad Carnival’s is the largest and most popular in the region, St Martin Carnival has the longest carnival season and has been growing in popularity year after year.”
This means that any travelers eager to participate in the various parades and events will want to get an accommodation in one of the island’s many luxury villas now. The capital city of Phillipsburg is where most of the carnival events occur in the carnival village area, and because it is easy to reach, accommodation in almost any part of the island will be suitable to participate in the day’s and nights’ long events.
Carnival in the Caribbean is unique from the concept of Carnival that many parts of Europe and the United States celebrate. Utterly unique and reflective of the incredible heritage of the region, it is well worth the effort of booking early and making your way to the areas during these celebrations. With so much to see, do and learn, it is impossible to underappreciate even a weekend of activity and excitement. Whether it is to escape winter’s chill an head to St Martin or wait for the summer season to arrive and celebrate the harvest period in the other areas, Carnival will never mean the same to you again!