For many visitors to the region, the Caribbean is Carnival, a festive time of costumed parades and pageants, music and dance, fun and laughter. The usual cares of the world are forgotten as visitors and locals alike let their hair down and dance to the beat of the latest sounds. Many of the region’s Carnivals are held early in the year, just before Lent, but in fact there are celebrations in almost every month of the year.Dates do vary, however, so if you plan to visit one of the islands for Carnival, check the dates with the relevant Tourist Board beforehand . . . But as a guide here is a rundown:
First off for the Carnival season are Trinidad and Tobago, Curaçao, Guadeloupe, Haiti and Martinique. These islands all have a long period of Carnival activity, culminating in Mardi Gras, or Shrove Tuesday, the day before the start of Lent. In Trinidad and Tobago, calypso tents and steel orchestras are already in full swing, and there is a crowded schedule of Carnival fetes or parties. In Guadeloupe, and in Martinique’s ‘Vaval’, all the diableses (she-devils) wear black and white costumes on Ash Wednesday for the funeral of King Carnival, who is burned on a funeral pyre. In Haiti, groups tour the towns every Sunday through the month, wearing bulls’ head masks or white painted faces, making as much noise as possible with a wild selection of makeshift instruments.
This is the time for Carnival. The islands which started to celebrate in January continue their festivities, and are joined by Dominica, the Dominican Republic, St Lucia, St Martin, Bonaire, Carriacou and Aruba. Trinidad’s Carnival is the largest, with vast groups of revellers forming masquerade bands, all wearing costumes portraying a central theme. Traditional pan (steel) musicians travel with the bands and play with gusto. In Trinidad and St Lucia, there is a pre-dawn jump-up called J’Ouvert, and the final day of Carnival features the big parade of the bands. In the evening the action winds down in the traditional Last Lap. In Guyana, there is a Carnival-style festival, Mahramani.
This is Carnival time for St Maarten, the Cayman Islands and St Thomas. St Thomas’s Carnival is a huge affair; the most startling of the participants are those costumed as Moko Jumbies. These tall spirits walk and dance through the crowds, perched on top of tall stilts. The mirrors sewn into their costumes, and their weaving movements, mesmerise onlookers, who are supposed to fall into a trance and follow the dancing steps of the spirit. Jamaica, not to be out done, stages two Carnivals this month.
St Vincent’s two-week Carnival season starts towards the end of this month.
Antigua’s Carnival season starts at the end of July, and offers ten days of activity around the Carnival City, which has arts and crafts on display and local food and drink on sale. There are beauty pageants, steel band contests and the huge Last Lap parade on the final day of festivities. St Vincent’s Carnival reaches its climax, Nevis has its Carnival-style celebration, and small Carnival events are staged in Saba and St John this month. Barbados has three weeks of Crop Over Festival starting mid-July, originally a celebration to mark the end of the sugar cane harvest but now to mark the end of the sugar cane harvest but now a Carnival in all but name. There are calypso contests, concerts, cultural events, and the final colourful parade on Grand Kadooment day in August. In Toronto, the Caribana festival gets under way.
Grenada has its Carnival and Rainbow City Festival this month. The Rainbow City Festival is a series of cultural shows and arts and crafts displays. The final day of Grenada’s Carnival, with parade of the bands through the streets of St George’s, rivals the excitement of any of the Caribbean’s Carnivals. The island of Anguilla has its Carnival this month, and it seems that every one of the islanders participates in at least some of the activities. As well as the usual parades, there is an unusual Male Queen Show, and the very popular boat races. The Carriacou Regatta in early August features everything from boat races to cultural shows to donkey races, and there is also a Carnival in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Meanwhile in London’s Notting Hill, Carnival takes over the last weekend of the month.
The action moves to New York for the Labour Day Carnival in Brooklyn
Miami stages a fast-growing Carnival
Puerto Rico stages a White Christmas Festival this month, and St Croix has its Carnival. St Kitts and Nevis celebrate Carnival from December 22 into the New Year, and Montserrat has a small Carnival with parades between Christmas and New Year. Jamaica and the Bahamas also have Carnival-style celebrations this month.