The Caribbean Defined

Festivals and Events
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Woman in red carnival parade costume in Trinidad
Trinidad's colorful Carnival (courtesy, Trinidad and Tobago Tourism)

Almost every Caribbean island hosts at least one blow-out party a year, and many seem to shoot for one every month. Again, we are not picking favorites here, just highlighting some of the more elaborate and acclaimed celebrations.

Carnival, Trinidad & Tobago
Carnival is to the Caribbean as Madi Gras is to New Orleans, and Trinidad hosts the mother of all Carnivals. The party here has inspired imitators throughout the region—and as far away as Toronto and London. Held every February, two days before Ash Wednesday, Carnival is preceded by weeks of preparations. Local bands practice around the clock in hopes of winning the Calypso Monarch crown, which also comes with a hefty cash prize. Yards and alleyways fill with musicians, who set up to rehearse wherever they can. Once the celebration begins, the streets overflow with costumed groups of locals and tourists—each led by an even more elaborately costumed king and queen—who dance through the streets to strains of steel or soca.

Junkanoo Festival, Bahamas
Brought to the region by African slaves, Junkanoo purportedly celebrates a great African (whose name sounded like "John Canoe"), although a reliable history of the dance-based parade is elusive. Junkanoo is celebrated throughout the former British territories in the Caribbean, and as far north as North Carolina, but the December 26 and New Year's Day parades in Nassau are said to be the biggest. Starting at midnight, Junkanoo groups "rush" through towns in highly ornate cardboard costumes, overtaking the streets with gyrating dancing and music with an odd affection for cowbells. Remember, you can sleep at home. Tonight, we Junkanoo!

New Year's Eve, Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands
The New Year's party on the tiny island of Jost Van Dyke is not for amateurs, gawkers, or poseurs. Boats, from sleek sailing yachts to dinghies and everything in between, fill Great Harbor, turning the picturesque bay into a giant raft-up. The music starts early and doesn't stop. Grand Central is Foxy's, a barefoot, laid-back beach bar that has become a Caribbean institution. Other local bars, including the Soggy Dollar and Ali Baba's, will happily pour a drink. Know what you're drinking before you imbibe: Fungally infused tea is known to make the rounds, which can make for a giddy, if somewhat unnerving, night. And watch your step as you stroll the beach from one cocktail to the next; many of the wounded curl up in the sand, waiting for next year to nudge them from their slumber.

St. Patrick's Day, Montserrat
That's not a typo. The quintessentially Irish holiday is more than just a day in Montserrat. In fact, it's a week-long bash featuring parades, costumes, calypso, soca, and more. But...why? In the 1600s, Irish Catholic indentured servants came to Montserrat and mingled with African slaves who had been brought to work sugar plantations for the English. Both groups held tight to their own traditions, and today St. Patrick's Week includes remembrances of an attempted slave revolt in 1768. Montserrat, an entirely volcanic island—the Soufriere Hills volcano is active today—is the only country besides Ireland in which St. Patrick's Day is a national holiday.

Other Notables:
Reggae Sumfest, Jamaica (August); Crop Over, Barbados (July-August); St. Lucia Jazz Festival (spring).

Published: 9 Nov 2009 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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