Caribbean Datebook (November/December 2015)

Your guide to Caribbean events in November and December, from film festivals in Cuba and the Bahamas to Suriname’s Owru Yari send-off

  • Photo by Gail Johnson/
  • Photo courtesy the Barbados Tourism Authority
  • Photo by Denys Turavtysov/
  • Photo courtesy the Nine Mornings Festival Committee
  • Photo by Stubblefield Photography/
  • Photo courtesy The Barbados Surfing Association
  • Photo by Edison Boodoosingh
  • Photo by Richard Cavalleri/
  • Photo by John Panella/
  • Photo courtesy Run Belize
  • Photo by Ariann Thompson/MEP

Don’t miss . . .

Season of lights

From Divali in Guyana, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago to Christmas all over the region, the final months of the year in the Caribbean are a holiday season widely celebrated with displays of festive illumination — as in Willemstad, capital of Curaçao, where the Christmas lights on the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge are enjoyed every evening by strollers.


If you’re in . . .

. . . Jamaica: Nyam Jam Festival

13 to 14 November • Oracabessa

Nothing brings people together like food and music. Toss in the sunny landscape of Jamaica, and you have the setting for your perfect vacation. While you’re there, be sure to drop in on the first-ever Nyam Jam Festival. Touted as “a celebration of the authentic spirit and culture of Jamaica,” Nyam Jam — Jamaican patwa for “food party” — was dreamed up by Chris Blackwell of Island Records fame and Reyna Mastrosimone, founder of Jane Street Productions. The two-day event draws on Jamaicans’ longstanding farm-to-table culinary culture.

Based at the GoldenEye Hotel and Resort and James Bond Beach in Oracabessa, Nyam Jam brings together international and local celebrity chefs, to showcase their signature dishes. Friday’s festivities kick off with a sunset dinner, to benefit the Oracabessa Foundation, with Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin providing the evening’s entertainment. Saturday brings a culinary bazaar on the grounds of GoldenEye for eight hundred attendees, who’ll enjoy booths featuring local food products and tasting tables offering Jamaica’s favourite street fare. That evening, look out for another special dinner with an intimate performance by Angelique Kidjo.


. . . Barbados: Barbados Food, Wine, and Rum Festival

19 to 22 November • venues around Barbados

Wrapped up in the mystique of the Caribbean, with its sandy beaches and secluded islands, are tales of long-ago pirates . . . and their rum. Have no fear: when it comes to the rum, the annual Barbados Food, Wine, and Rum Festival is more than real enough to quench your thirst, or sink your teeth into.

This year’s festival begins on 19 November, as Ethiopia-born star chef Marcus Samuelsson brings The Oistins Bay Gardens to life, while Fusion Restaurant in Holetown is the place to be on 20 November for cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and dancing the night away.

Looking for a good mixologist? Check Holder’s Polo Club on 21 November. Not into polo? The festival’s Gourmet Safari event features former Top Chef finalist Carla Hall, offal specialist Chris Cosentino, and executive chef Duayne Holligan of The Crane Resort, serving up opulent dinners to please even the most refined palate, at some of the island’s top hotels. All this good food is just the tip of the iceberg, as the festival also includes cooking demonstrations, wine and rum tastings, parties, and more.


. . . Cuba: Havana Film Festival

3 to 13 December • venues around Havana

Although the US embargo against Cuba remains in place, despite the warming of Cuba–US diplomatic relations, you can expect a big audience at this year’s Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano de La Habana  — better known to English-speakers as the Havana Film Festival — the oldest film festival in the Caribbean, now in its thirty-seventh year. Featuring and celebrating films “whose significance and artistic values contribute to enrich and reaffirm the Latin American and Caribbean cultural identity,” the programme includes an international film showcase. The festival also bestows a host of highly coveted awards for full- and medium-length and short films in fiction, documentary, and animation categories — plus unproduced scripts and even cinema posters.

Of course, the competition is only part of any film festival. Cinema enthusiasts and industry professionals can also expect tributes to cultural and film icons, retrospectives, seminars, exhibitions, concerts, and master classes. So brush up on your Spanish and be prepared to be immersed in a cultural experience unlike any other.


. . . St Vincent and the Grenadines: Nine Mornings Festival

16 to 24 December • venues around St Vincent and the Grenadines

While the Caribbean doesn’t have the white snow and crackling Yuletide fires that signal Christmas for many around the world, we do have our own traditions — which often include the aroma of fresh paint. Yes, we do love turning the house topsy-turvy in a cleaning and painting frenzy, but St Vincent and the Grenadines go one better, with an entire festival dedicated to heralding the Christmas season. And who better to introduce the Nine Mornings Festival than Michael Peters, chairman of the organising committee?

Peters, who has been involved in Nine Mornings for the past twenty-six years, says the festival continues to be popular, even “surpassing Vincy Mas as the major festival attraction.” But he exlains there is a concerted effort not to make Nine Mornings another “Carnival,” and to ensure its activities are enjoyed by the entire family, Christians and non-Christians alike. It is a unique Vincentian Christmas festival, hence the emphasis on preserving traditional forms, from food and drink to ring games, storytelling, and traditional dances.

The festival is always held on the nine mornings before Christmas — hence its name. Peters says nowadays the programme includes “special sporting activities . . . traditional and non-traditional, to attract the youth and other generations.” So apart from football, tennis, cricket, netball, cycling, and races, you better prepare yourself for a rousing game of hula hoop, hopscotch, or sack racing.

The official launch on 29 November features a street parade, and the lighting of Heritage Square. Then follow numerous activities across the country during the month of December, including street concerts, carolling contests, exhibitions, and community lighting-up.


. . . Around the Caribbean: Christmas Bird Count

14 December to 5 January

It is both the oldest and largest birding project in the world. Started in 1900, as an alternative to traditional Christmas “side hunts,” where a winner was declared for the most bird kills, the annual Christmas Bird Count was proposed by US ornithologist Frank Chapman. Today, the annual count is managed by the National Audubon Society based in the US, with participants in countries around the globe.

Over a three-week period in December and January, birders throughout the world task themselves with the challenge of counting all the birds within their assigned geographical location. The data collected are important for scientists and conservationists, as they indicate environmental threats, and declines and surges in bird populations.

Here’s how it works. Each November, birders sign up through the Audubon website. On a single day (and yes, that does mean exactly twenty-four hours) during the count period, birders follow a prescribed route in a fifteen-mile radius, counting every bird they see or hear. Some countries host several different counts — feel free to join as many as you’re able. In the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Trinidad and Tobago participated in last year’s count — so join in, or help get one started in your own country.

Event previews by Mirissa De Four


Now for November

Style Weekend St Kitts
Venues around St Kitts

One of the Caribbean’s most picturesque landscapes — sixty-five square miles of hills and beaches — is the setting for an intimate fashion festival featuring talented designers you need to watch
6 to 8 November


Barbados Independence Pro Surf Fest

This long-time fixture on the Caribbean’s surfing calendar draws the best surf talent from around the region (and the world) to the picturesque Soup Bowl on Barbados’s east coast
12 to 15 November


Around the Caribbean

The Hindu festival of lights and prosperity brings a season of celebration, food, music, and culture. Biggest festivities are in Trinidad, Guyana, and Suriname, with their significant Hindu populations
11 November


Miami Book Fair
Downtown Miami

It’s probably the biggest literary festival in the United States, and most of it is free. Caribbean authors starring in the 2015 line-up include Edwidge Danticat, Naomi Jackson, and OCM Bocas Prize winner Vladimir Lucien
15 to 22 November


Anegada Lobster Festival
British Virgin Islands

Tiny Anegada is famous for its seafood — and especially its succulent lobster, served fresh from the turquoise waters around the island. How many ways are there to eat lobster? You have two whole days to find out
28 to 29 November


Definitely December

Bahamas International Film Festival
Nassau and Eleuthera

BIFF celebrates twelve years of showcasing the best of Caribbean film, with screenings, workshops, parties, and the obligatory red carpet
1 to 12 December


End of the World Marathon
Placiencia, Belize

Back in 2012, when superstitious types worried about the Mayan calendar predicting the end of the world, a group of Belizean runners decided a marathon was a good way to meet possible Armageddon. The world went on, and so does the (now annual) race
6 December


Around the Caribbean

You may or may not agree it’s “the most wonderful time of the year,” but Caribbean people love Christmas as much as — maybe more than — anyone else. It’s a time for family, food, a host of national and local traditions, and above all for celebration — maybe over a glass of sorrel?
25 December


Bahamas Junkanoo

For the Bahamas’ biggest cultural spectacle, thousands “rush” through the streets of Nassau in the early hours, performing choreographed dances in colourful costumes
26 December and 1 January


Owru Yari
Downtown Paramaribo, Suriname

Surinamese mark the end of the old year — and welcome in the new — with a boisterously joyful day of firecrackers, parades, and music
31 December