If you are thinking of coming to the Caribbean for some sun and sea, consider planning your travel to coincide with a Carnival.
Almost all Caribbean carnivals are multi-day events that celebrate Caribbean culture, art and history that culminate in a grand parade, usually replete with colorful costumed masqueraders and vibrant island music and are on the greatest spectacles to witness!
Carnival's origin can be traced to Italy. The Catholics began holding a costume party the night before Lent. As Catholics are not supposed to eat meat (or carnivale) during Lent, this celebration began to be know as Carnivale. This joyous celebration spread throughout Europe and as the Europeans moved to conquer the Americas, they brought their Carnival celebration with them. As slavery flourished in the Caribbean, the Africans were not allowed to participate in the celebration with the Europeans, so they began their own. And added their own dances and traditions.
Carnival tradition is based on a number of different events: "Playing Mas"/Masquerade; Calypso or Soca Music and crowning a Calypso King or Monarch; Panorama (Steel Band Competition); Jouvert morning; and a number of other traditions.
J'ouvert which is pronounced 'juuvay', is a large street party during Carnival in the eastern Caribbean region. J'ouvert is a contraction of the French jour ouvert, or day open (morning).
J'ouvert is celebrated on many islands, including Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, Saint Lucia, Guyana, Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Aruba, Barbados, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts and Nevis, Sint Maarten, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands..
The celebration involves calypso/soca bands and their followers dancing through the streets. The festival starts late at night and peaks a few hours after sunrise. They parade for hours! The bands usually ride on a truck with huge speakers and play for hours on end. Followers choose a band they favor, and then dress in the colors of that band. They follow the band truck. Which is closely followed by a beer truck!
It is amazing energy. You will feel very welcome to either watch or participate. As raucous as it looks, Carnival is a family event in the Caribbean. You will see children of all ages! The costumes are all handmade. Many start their costumes soon after a carnival ends, so they have a year to think of what to make.
Trinidad holds the granddaddy of all Caribbean Carnivals. Their Carnival is held in the traditional time of a few days before Lent. You will have to hurry to see this Carnival as Lent is early this year and the Carnival of Trinidad will begin February 15th.
It is said you can travel a different island in the Caribbean each month and plan it so you are there for their Carnival! I don't know if that is quite true, but the celebrations are spread out throughout the year. Click here for the latest schedule of Caribbean Carnivals.