From pageants to street parades, add these unique Caribbean winter vacation destinations to your bucket list.
Like birds flying to warmer climes in the wintertime, travelers around the world will again answer the siren call to the Caribbean’s tropical sunshine this winter vacation season. In the region, the festivities go well beyond gift-giving, fireworks, and decking the halls. Here are some of the special places to go and things to see when celebrating the holidays and welcoming the New Year in the West Indies.
St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
For locals in St. Croix, Christmas is synonymous with carnival time. True revelers can find everything they love about Caribbean-style carnivals at the Crucian Christmas
Festival—a month-long celebration that energizes the entire island with the holiday spirit. Think cultural pageants, vibrant calypso competitions, and elaborate costume parades.
Though events are held island-wide, the official marquee celebrations happen in Frederiksted. The festivities are enjoyed throughout much of December, and even spill into the first days of January, starting with the popular St. Croix Festival Queen pageant.
The main action, however, begins December 25 with the official gospel concert in Frederiksted, featuring a bevy of traditional holiday carols. After Christmas Day, the party kicks up several notches with the opening of the Christmas Festival Village. At this charming event, visitors can enjoy live musical performances, hop onto classic carnival rides, and explore handmade crafts and culinary delights from local vendors.
From here, the music and fetes run nightly through to Three Kings Day, on January 6. Must-see events include the wet and wild j’ouvert parade (free for all), as well as the Culture Night concert where old-school calypsonians strut their stuff. This all culminates with the grand adult parade—where the good times most certainly roll—filled with stunningly crafted costumes.
Getting up at the crack of dawn isn’t just for kids wanting to peek at presents during Christmas in St. Vincent. Here, grown-ups have their own pre-dawn fun during the island’s annual Nine Mornings Festival.
This celebration, which dates back to the early 1900s, has roots in the tradition of
Catholic novena—a public devotional prayer that is repeated for nine days. Following early- morning church services, it’s said Vincentians paraded through the streets, often enjoying a sea dip along the way. This eventually evolved into the modern Nine Mornings celebrations of today.
True to its name, the fete runs over nine consecutive mornings, leading up to Christmas Eve. The biggest celebrations concentrate around the capital Kingstown. But don’t sleep on charming celebrations held in rural communities like the southeast enclave of Stubbs, which has won the Best Nine Mornings Community Award several times.
The series of events is always filled with creole dances, caroling, street parades, string bands, boom drums, and sea baths. A wild and raucous jump-up is held on the final morning of the festival on Christmas Eve. Celebrated nowhere else, Nine Mornings is a uniquely Vincentian expression of local culture, faith, and fun.
West Indian people love making music, so it’s no surprise that caroling is a big part of winter holiday celebrations across the islands. In Martinique, the tradition takes on a personality all its own in a celebration called Chanté Nwel.
Every night for three weeks before Christmas Day, Martinicans gather together to share food and sing songs all night long. The playlist is a mix of standard carols and cherished local tunes sung in Creole, with a local percussion instrument called the ti bwa adding rhythm and spice.
This unique celebration isn’t confined to private homes either. Celebrations often spill into the streets, inviting any and all to join the singing and merriment. Hotels and restaurants across the island host their own Chanté Nwel events, making it easy for visitors to get into the spirit.
Fueling the fun is Martinique’s traditional holiday tipple, shrubb. Sweet, strong, and sassy, shrubb is to Christmas in Martinique as eggnog is to the holiday season in the United States. The spicy liqueur is made from the dried peels of oranges, which abound in Martinique in December. Believe it—a shot of shrubb in Martinique will have you carol-
ing in Creole whether you speak the language or not.
The ball drops. Champagne gets toasted. Fireworks ensue…yawn. For a lot more excitement, you’ll want to ring in the New Year in Nassau. Here, the final celebration of the year is all about Junkanoo.
Junkanoo fetes Bahamian culture through a vibrant explosion of colors, music, dance, and revelry. The tradition dates back to the days of slavery in The Bahamas. Origin stories vary, though many say the event stems from celebrations held in honor of John Canoe, an African folk hero who spent decades thwarting
British colonial rule. The modern-day celebrations continue as a massive street parade, starting on Boxing Day. December 26. Downtown Nassau becomes a riot of color as local bands compete for best costumes and street floats, all while marching to a blend of traditional drums and big brass sounds.
The party continues with the popular New Year’s Day Carnival parade. Welcoming the New Year, the carnival parade begins after midnight with huge troupes of Junkanoo revelers numbering in the thousands—all performing their hearts out for the top prize. Onlookers dance along, shouting support for their favorite bands as the last night of the old year gives way to a bright and raucous beginning of the new one.
More Caribbean Winter Vacation Destinations: