Pre-Lenten Carnival celebrations showcase some of the best aspects of Caribbean culture. Nearly every Caribbean country has its own variation of this lively festival, at some point during the year.
Although the origins of each nation’s carnival celebrations differ greatly, most historians agree that these festivities stem from Western Christian pre-Lenten traditions.
During Lent, adherents to Catholicism and certain branches of Christianity typically abstain from meat and give up certain enjoyable activities and foods. For this reason, the pre-Lent season is a time for joyous fun, frivolity, and food in excess.
Carnival celebrations today are somewhat similar to Mardi Gras in France or New Orleans. In fact, historians believe that French colonists were the first to bring the festivities to the Caribbean, specifically Trinidad & Tobago, in the late 18th century.
Today, not all Carnival celebrations represent a time of plenty before Lent. Over time, the festivities have evolved to celebrate emancipation from slavery, local culture, or the harvest time.
Countries that celebrate pre-lenten Carnival
Not every Caribbean country celebrates Carnival before lent (February or March). Some, like Antigua, hold their festivals in June or July. The following countries hold Carnival during the pre-lenten season:
- Curacao: The main parades, known as the Gran Marcha, take place in early February in this Dutch Caribbean country. Revelers take to the streets wearing colorful beaded and feathered costumes, and a “Tumba King” is chosen during a four-day musical competition.
- Martinique: Carnival in Martinique is one of the longest in the Caribbean, beginning on Fat Sunday and lasting until Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. The official dates for 2020 are February 23 to 26, but smaller parties take place around the island weeks before that.
- Haiti: This nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince, is also the hub of its Carnival festivities. Locals refer to it as Karnaval or Mardi Gras. Each year has a specific theme, and the main event is a parade called Kye Marn.
- Guadeloupe: This small Caribbean island celebrates Carnival on Dimanche Gras, or Fat Sunday, with costumed parades on the streets of Pointe-à-Pitre. On Ash Wednesday, the revelers don black in order to commemorate the funeral of Vaval, the King of Carnival.
- Dominica: Referred to as Mas Domnik, or the “Real Mas”, Dominica’s Carnival celebrations reflect traditions of the past. There’s a lively mix of parades, competitions, and calypso music. Traditional characters from Caribbean folklore are prominently featured, such as Sensays, Black Devils, Bwa Bwa and Pappy Show .
- Carriacou: This country may be small in size, but it’s big on parties! Carriacou hold two Carnival celebrations each year. One takes place before Lent, and the other, known as Spice Mas, is held in August.
Visit the Caribbean in February!
Which Caribbean will you visit for pre-lenten carnival celebrations this year? February is a wonderful time to travel to the Caribbean. In fact, it’s one of the best times of the year.
Main image credit: Pan African Music
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