Caribbean Carnivals

Parades and parties kick off the celebrations held to commemorate St. Lucia Day on December 13th. Named for the patron saint of light, St. Lucy, this holiday was founded on the commonly held belief that Christopher Columbus discovered St. Lucia on this day in 1502. This idea has been soundly disproven, but it hasn’t stopped the Carnival-like atmosphere that lasts right up until Christmas. The don’t-miss highlight is the Festival of Lights. Days before, residents throughout the island decorate their homes with homemade lanterns. The real spectacle begins when the sun sets on December 13th with a parade of people carrying beautiful lanterns around Derek Walcott Square in the capitol city of Castries. Other festivities include choir competitions, street parties with live bands, fish fries and food sales, and local sporting competitions such as a game of cricket.

St. Kitts & Nevis Carnival

National pride combines with Christmas spirit to make the St. Kitts & Nevis Carnival or “Sugar Mas” unlike many other islands’ carnival celebrations throughout the year. Calypso competitions begin mid-December and include beauty pageants and the naming of the Carnival Queen—complete with the crowing of the Calypso Monarch. The real entertainment heats up December 26th with J’ouvert, a street jam where revelers follow their favorite bands whose instruments and sound systems are located on the backs of trucks. The Grand Carnival Parade, a massive show of costumed dancers, stilt-walking Mocko Jumbies, steel pan bands, and decorated floats, takes place in this dual-island nation’s capital of Basseterre on New Year’s Day.

Carriacou Parang Festival

Local and visiting islands’ string bands play a blend of Christmas carols with traditional folk tunes at the annual music festival held on Grenada’s offshore island of Carriacou December 19-21. The Festival started in 1977 as a way to keep alive the age-old custom of bands walking house to house to serenade friends and family. Today, eight-piece percussion bands carry on this tradition and compete for prizes. The big contest, held on the tennis court in Hillsborough, entails performing one Christmas carol and one piece of the band’s own choosing, which may be in keeping with the seasonal theme or a calypso-like satire on island life and politics. It’s easy to make it a day trip to visit Carriacou for the Parang Festival. Ferries depart several times daily from St. George’s for the 90-minute trip to Hillsborough, and a flight on a commuter air carrier takes only 15 minutes.

By Carol Bareuther, Southern Boating December 2014

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