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Carnival Traditions in the Caribbean

The Caribbean’s Carnivals feature several common themes, all of which originated from Trinidad and Tobago Carnival which is known as the Mother of Carnivals, which began before 1846 and gained global recognition in 1881 with the Canboulay Riots in Port of Spain. Both Carnival and Mardi Gras share Catholic routes and revolve around pre-Lent, Fat Tuesday traditions, however, Carnival folds in African traditions like music, dance, colorful costumes, and a much more flavorful, vibrant party. Today many of the Caribbean islands have ditched the Catholic ties and have moved their celebrations from February to the summer, incorporating larger festivals and parties. Carnivals in the Caribbean are a guaranteed good time with opportunities for a spectacular island vacation with a mix of exploration and fun, the opportunity to dress up, dance through the streets, and live life to the fullest. Carnival is a time to let loose, with masks and mythical characters that form an essential part of Caribbean Carnival, these fun-filled island nations with glistening coastlines sure know how to throw a party.

Madri Gras celebrations in Mexico

Madri Gras celebrations in Mexico are large and diverse held in seaside port towns like Veracruz and Mazatlan which highlight the country’s culture for visitors from around the world. The celebrations in Mazatlan feature banda, and grupero music in the mix, it is the third-largest Mardi Gras celebration in the world, welcoming thousands of visitors from all over Sinaloa, and surrounding states. The cultural relevance of Mazatlan’s Mardi Gras celebrations includes hosting La Velada de las Artes (Evening of the Arts) and honoring the winner of the Premio Mazatlan de la Literatura (Mazatlan Award for Literature). On the second day of the festival, attendants celebrate the Quema del mal humor (burning of the bad mood), which allows those to get rid of negative vibes by burning them before jumping in on a week-long celebration. There is live music, dancing, drinking, parades, costumes, masks, and eating.

The Carnival Vegano - Dominican Republic

The Carnival Vegano is the island’s biggest festival attracting thousands of visitors every year to the Dominican Republic. People hit the streets to enjoy a good time with music, dancing, costumes, and street parties. The elements of this carnival include a mixture of African traditions brought by the slaves transported to the New World by European colonizers. There are weekly celebrations held every Sunday, which coincides closely with the Dominican Independence Day on February 27th. These celebrations date back to the 1500s and costumes worn range from traditional to cutting edge, and are culturally relevant, with dancers and performers wearing heavily sequined outfits donning the shiny Dominican flags. This is a colorful and joyful celebration in the country where everyone takes to the streets to share in the lively atmosphere, the two most important carnivals are held in La Vega and Santo Domingo during February. There are parades with masked devils dancing the African rhythms.

The Ponce Carnival or Carnaval Ponceno - Puerto Rico

The Ponce Carnival or Carnaval Ponceno is held in the city of Ponce in southern Puerto Rico every year since 1858. A colorful carnival that lasts for a whole week comes to an end on the day before Ash Wednesday with main events including several parades, dancing, shows, wildly decorated floats, marching bands, juggling shows, masks, and colorful crazy costumes, and more. The carnival is derived from the old world tradition of a final celebration before the beginning of Lent. Ponce Carnival dominates the historic downtown area of the city with many of the events taking place at the Plaza las Delicias (Town Plaza) and the Casa Alcalde (Ponce City Hall). The vejigantes are the undisputed stars of Ponce Carnival, these demons are straight out of the centuries-old folklore that blends African, Spanish, and Caribbean customs and traditions. The name originates from “vejiga” which means “bladder” in Spanish, because the vejigantes used to arm themselves with inflated cow bladders, and would go around beating the evil spirits away from children. The traditional vejigante costume requires three basic components: a mask, a cape, and a suit; the mask is usually required to have teeth or horns.

Vincy Mas - Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Vincy Mas takes place in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, south of the Caribbean Islands near the Lesser Antilles Island arc in the Caribbean Sea. The Vincy Mas Carnival celebration begins in late June and lasts for 12 days every year, an impressive carnival features parades, costumes, parties, competitions, food, and the naming of a “calypso monarch” and “carnival king and queen” with plenty of music from steel pan to soca and calypso. It is the biggest fiesta on the island with the biggest parades taking place; Monday morning’s J’Ouvert, and Tuesday’s all-day Mardi Gras on the last two days of the festival. Promoted as “The Hottest Carnival in the Caribbean” attracting thousands of tourists each year who come to the tropical island to enjoy a colorful, vibrant celebration of music, dance, and Vincentian heritage. The festival was held on the days before Lent up until 1977, Vincy Mas developed its identity in the 18th century by combining elements from the European Carnival traditions along with customs from African religions brought by freed slaves.

The carnival of Martinique - Martinique

The carnival of Martinique is renowned throughout the world and is one of the most beautiful. Full of history, unique in its kind, mixed and popular, it holds a great place in the local cultural heritage. Although it takes weeks to prepare, the festivities really begin on the Sunday after Epiphany and end on Ash Wednesday. Depending on the year, the carnival takes place in February or March. This is one of the most popular carnivals in the entire Caribbean with a large number of visitors attending during the month of February to experience this magical celebration. The pre-Lenten carnival takes place for 3 days prior to Lent, carnival season kicks off in January with lots of parties and parades taking place in villages all over the island, every weekend until the main carnival begins. Martinique Carnival showcases the culture and traditions of the island, it is the ultimate celebration of life spreading joy across the islands with local culture, food, music, and pageantry. Every village prepares its costumes, floats, and parade performances for months in advance, it is a very special carnival for the locals and an important part of their culture and heritage of the island of flowers.

Batabano Cayman Carnival - Cayman Islands

Batabano Cayman Carnival is celebrated in the Cayman Islands since 1983, launched by the Rotary Club of Grand Cayman normally during the first week of May. This is one of the most significant carnivals of its kind in teh Caribbean, the island’s residents are descendants of people from over a hundred nations that created cultural diversity of music, colored dresses, and a unique lifestyle and experience. A colorful and rhythmic carnival with celebrations and events dedicated to adults and children. The carnival takes place on Grand Cayman in George Town, the capital of the Cayman Islands, on the west side of the island where the major cruise port is located. The blended cultures of the island residents come together to create a carnival filled with local dance, music, fashion, elaborate vibrant costumes, local rum, and cuisine, to embrace the local Cayman culture. The Batabano Carnival is named in honor of the Cayman Islands' turtling heritage, the word Batabano means the tracks left in the sand by sea turtles, the turtle is an important symbol of the islands. The carnival can be divided into two big celebrations; The Adult Batabano (more traditional Caribbean celebrations are geared toward adults) takes place first with a road parade composed of Masquerade Bands, and colorful costumes. The Junior Batabano was introduced in 2002 with carnival celebrations geared towards the entire family, kids get a chance to participate in the parade with lots of other fun activities like face painting, carnival rides, and mask decorating.

The Crop Over - Barbados

The Crop Over is the summer festival in Barbados every year, a whole month of celebrations including parades, parties, and live music. This is one of the most popular and colorful festivals in the Caribbean dating back to the 1780s when Barbados was the world’s largest producer of sugar. The festival begins with an Opening Gala and Ceremonial Delivery of the Last Canes and the crowing of the King and Queen of the Festival, the most productive male and female cane cutters of the season. Crop Over spans over a 12-week period from the month of May through August, with tons of pre-carnival events that run until Grand Kadooment in August, official Crop Over season is July-August. The majority of the celebrations take place in Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados, the epicenter of the island, and most of the events take place at the National Stadium. Bridgetown Market consists of many stalls selling food and beverages along with local arts and crafts, there is calypso and soca music as well as live entertainment. Spring Gardens is also transformed into a carnival hub and hosts hundreds of street vendors and market stalls. Cohobblopot is a huge carnival-like show where members of the Kadooment bands display their elaborate and stunning costumes. The Kiddies Kadooment is for the children with beautiful costumes, kid bands, and parades. The Grand Kadooment is the finale of the festival with a carnival parade that features live bands with members dressed in elaborate costumes to depict various themes.

Junkanoo - Nassau - Bahamas

Junkanoo is a bi-annual celebration of sights and sounds that takes place on Bay Street in Nassau, and on many of the Outer Islands. It is one of the most celebrated and spirited carnivals in the Caribbean with colorful costumes, exuberant dance routines, street parades, and musical instruments. The festival occurs on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) and New Year’s morning, it is also celebrated on Independence Day, Junkanoo Summer Fest, and other small holidays throughout the year. The Junkanoo Festival celebrations have been evolving in The Bahamas since the early 1900s, today it serves as less of a street festival and more as a grand parade celebrating Bahamian culture. It is the most anticipated event of the year and thousands of people spend most of the year preparing costumes and entertainment for the event.

Carnival in Aruba - Aruba

Carnival in Aruba is one big tropical Caribbean island party and the most anticipated event of the year spanning over a whole month filled with parades, parties, and live music. The Carnival in Aruba normally begins on January 1st and runs until the start of Lent, the few days prior to Lent is when the main carnival celebrations occur with The Grand Parade always taking place on Shrove Sunday. Carnival in Aruba is all about tradition it is about the community coming together and celebrating life with people of all ages attending the party. Aruba is named the happiest island in the world, and during Carnival, it is even more spectacular than ever with catchy music, colorful costumes, lively street parties, parades, and plenty of merry-making. A one-of-a-kind experience with weeks of celebration including pageants, parades, coronations, street parties called jump-ups, live music, musical competitions, J’ouvert, children’s carnival, and endless parties that all culminate in the Grand Parade. The Jouvert Morning Pajama Parade, the Children’s Parades, and finally the Grand Parade are all big parts of Aruba’s Carnival celebrations. The Burning of King Momo marks the end of Carnival Season the entire island goes on hiatus, known as Carnival Monday (officially a day of rest). Carnival in Aruba was born in 1954 with a series of small festivals, The Tivoli Club, Aruba’s oldest private social club, was the first to have a pre-Lenten celebration in Oranjestad in February 1944.

Anguilla Summer Festival - Anguilla

The Anguilla Carnival also called Anguilla Summer Festival is the biggest holiday on the island, widely known and celebrated throughout the island. Carnival runs from the end of July through the first week of August when most government buildings and shops close down for a period full of events. The ten-day annual celebration features events such as boat races, costumes, parades, parties, and live music. The carnival officially starts with the “Official Opening Night” kick-off an evening full of musical performances, and fireworks that take place in The Valley, the capital of Anguilla. The Valley is the place to be for most of the action; such as The Prince and Princess Show follows, displaying the talents of Anguilla’s youth with categories that include speech, talent, and evening wear. The Boat races, bacchanal, and beach parties are found in Sandy Ground and Meads Bay. This cultural extravaganza engulfs the island each summer with African influences old Monday fairs, Bazars, and old-time Christmas festivities that feature cultural expressions of island life.

Jamaica Carnival - Kingstown/Montego Bay/Negril/Ochos Rios - Jamaica

Jamaica Carnival is an annual bash that begins in January and ends in April after Easter, the Carnival in Jamaica is electrifying with the raw flavor of the Caribbean at Bacchanal Jamaica Road March and other exciting events. The Bacchanal Jamaica Road March in Kingston is the most popular and known as one of the greatest festivals in the area, it is marked by the great Bob Marley and calypso bands. There are also carnival celebrations that take place in the centers of Montego Bay, Negril, and Ochos Rios. There are lots of bands playing various styles of music such as Ragai, Calypso, and Soca, dancing, extravagant costumes, children’s parades, and a colorful adult’s parade that starts on the last day of the carnival, in Beach Jouvert. More than 100,000 guests attend this annual event with high-energy vibes, locals and tourists alike gather in the streets for a spectacular celebration of the island’s spirit. Jamaica Carnival is a fusion of incredible food, music, costumes, color, rum, and dance, the country is famous for its reggae music, and along with soca and calypso music, they form a proud part of their national identity. The National Carnival Road March is the carnival’s biggest event, an electric masquerade parade with competing mas bands. There are weekly events that lead up to the grand finale such as beach parties, fetes, J’Ourvert, smaller street parties, mas camps, competitions, and lots of music.

Spicemas - Grenada

Spicemas is Grenada’s version of the Carnival, celebrated in August since 1981, on the first Monday and Tuesday of every August dedicated to this event. August 1st is Emancipation Day, and this premier cultural event climaxes during this time. This 10-day celebration of slavery’s end combines parades, pageantry, competitions, displays, great food, good rum, and music all linked to the island's African, French, British, and Caribbean heritage. The Grenadians make this celebration truly one of a kind, Spicemas embodies age-old traditions that symbolize human nature and a spirit that can never be broken. The Grenadian Carnival was celebrated on the traditional date of the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent, before its independence in 1974. It is known as Spicemas or August Mas and from dawn on Carnival Monday (J’Ouvert), traditional masqueraders dressed as devils called Jabs-Jabs by the Ole Mas, who are individuals who present satire and theatre on the events of the past year during the morning. Traditional Fancy Mas bands participate in the Monday parade in the afternoon, they dance through the streets in traditional costumes into the capital of St. George’s. The celebrations draw to an end on Tuesday with the parade of the bands, known as the “Last Lap”, Masqueraders and bands from all parishes dance through the streets in their brightly colored costumes to the delight of the throngs of onlookers with the soothing, sensual sounds of calypso music, steel bands, and DJ’s.

St Kitts and Nevis National Carnival

St Kitts and Nevis National Carnival is an annual event that takes place over the period between Christmas and New Year, the last day of the carnival is January 2nd, a public holiday. Carnival is the largest national event in Saint Kitts and Nevis, one of the most exciting times of the year, when the entire country lets loose and makes unforgettable memories. The main carnival celebrations take place during Christmas and New Year's Week with a colorful combination of local Caribbean culture, African heritage, and the Christmas spirit. A great place to say goodbye to the old year and welcome in the next, its official name is Sugar Mas and it began in 1971, carnival here is the biggest event of the year in the federation and an opportunity for the smallest sovereign state in the Western Hemisphere to punch above its weight. Sugar Mas is a colorful and exuberant festival with J’Ouvert, the Last Lap with clowns, moko jumbies, masqueraders, and other traditional figures. There are pageants, parades, street parties, soca and calypso music, delicious food, competitions, and the grand finale parade. This is a great time to experience Kittitian culture and folklore that reflect the island's heritage and traditions.

The Junkanoo Jump Up - Turks and Caicos

The Junkanoo Jump Up is an annual event held in the Turks and Caicos on January 1st, where locals take to the streets in be-jeweled masks, and handmade colorful costumes accompanied by traditional African music and celebrations. The biggest celebration of the year on the island with the most impressive display of the year being the fireworks over Grace Bay Beach on New Year’s Eve, many of the largest resorts on Providenciales put on their own fireworks display, and when the clock strikes midnight, the entirety of Grace Bay lights up. There are several beach bonfires on NYE, the largest is usually at Ricky’s Restaurant, sky lanterns can be seen floating away throughout the night. After rining in the new year the Junkanoo festival begins, where Jump Up Islanders take to the streets in costume, playing instruments and dancing until sunrise. This is one of the island's oldest traditions and is similar to Carnival or Mardi Gras, the event has been celebrated since the 16th century when slaves were given a day off to celebrate with their families. In downtown Provo in Turks and Caicos, once the clock strikes midnight the streets come alive with celebrants in vivid costumes, and masks, a parade across the island complete with music and dancing.

The Soleil Summer Festival - St Lucia

The Soleil Summer Festival is St Lucia’s annual festival showcasing the beautiful Caribbean Island's diverse heritage, rich and vibrant culture, breathtaking views, endless sunshine, and friendly locals. The festivities begin on May 12th starting with the St Lucia Festival, in celebration of Saint Lucian, with the Caribbean and International jazz performances held until the 14th of May, alongside musical workshops. SOLEIL - the Saint Lucia Summer Festival is a series of six festivals taking place from May through October, the festival is aimed at enhancing the island’s tourism product, and creating a unique entertainment opportunity for the visitors. Events take place across the island, culminating with a star-studded concert held at Pigeon Island National Landmark on Sunday, May 14th.

St. Thomas Carnival - St Thomas

The St. Thomas Carnival is a month-long event held a different times throughout the year, an annual post-Easter Carnival usually around April or Mayon the beautiful tropical island. It is a high-energy, vibrant, and colorful festival with pageants, calypso shows, street parties, J’Ouvert, Food fairs, two parades, and fireworks. The port of Charlotte Amalie is located on the island where the majority of the carnival activities take place. The St. Thomas Carnival is the biggest party of the year, the locals love their carnival traditions and many tourists fly in for the festivities to soak up the Caribbean music and vibes. The USVI Carnival embodies the vibrancy of life, rich costumes, sounds of steel pan drums, calypso and reggae music, and the great tasting food like Johnny Cakes, and Vienna cake. There are three events to choose from here, each island celebrating its own at different times of the year. The St. Thomas Carnival is a grand celebration of the unique traditions and history of the island, there is music, dancing in the streets, and lots of local culinary delights to enjoy. The St. Thomas Carnival started in 1912 to celebrate the local culture, it was officially turned into an annual event in 1952 when Ron de Lugo revived Carnival on the island. There are lots of fun random events including dazzling pageants, talent shows, greased pig contests, boat races, and a toddler's derby. There are two main parades at the Carnival, children’s and adults, with floats, dancing, and decorated troupes that head along the parade route which begins below Main Street and work their way to Lionel Robert’s Stadium.

Mas Domnik - Dominica

Mas Domnik is Dominica’s Carnival, also known as ‘Real Mas’ as it holds true to Carnival traditions of the past. The carnival takes place during the traditional pre-Lenten time on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, with a month of festivities and activities stretching for a month before Carnival takes place. The festivities include calypso music, Carnival competitions, street parades, pageants, feasts, dancing, and more. This is the most original and spontaneous Carnival and one of the most authentic Carnivals with traditions originating from centuries past. The Queen Contestants, Calypsonians, Princess Show Contestants, the most popular bands, participants in vibrant costumes, the ‘Blackies’, stilt walkers, cheerleaders, and many more parading through the streets. Mas Domnik blends together African and French traditions, attracting revelers from all over the world who come to experience a dazzling display of social solidarity and a cultural explosion of music, art, and dance. Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday is when two exciting days of street jump-up begin and officially open with an Opening Parade and ceremony highlighting the celebrations to come. These celebrations include parades, food, music, and nightlife along with a unique way to see the islands while learning the culture and traditions of the residents. Mas Domnik is the most festive time of year in Dominica.