Carnival throughout Latin America is a riotous celebration filled with colorful dancers and loud music. One of the easiest and most family-friendly places south of the USA to get close to the action is Belize, which has two seasons of Carnaval, as it’s called in this Spanish-speaking part of the world. The revelry and excitement of the participants fills the air. It’s an event that everyone should experience at least once.
Parades and Street Celebrations
As the parade approaches, you’ll hear the strong pounding rhythms and beats of the drums long before you see them. Soon you’re surrounded by colorful floats and exotically dressed dancers. The dancers plan their colorful, feathered costumes all year long. Floats are also thoughtfully planned. As they approach, you’ll realize that everyone around you is beginning to sing, shout and dance. This is a time when the whole country comes together for a huge party and pageantry.
The largest carnival in Belize is the September one, announced with the phrase “karnival da cum”. This is kriol (creole) for “carnival is coming”, a phrase that you will hear in the days before as anticipation grows. The heart of the carnival spirit is cooperation, and everyone joining in, as represented by the Kriol proverb “one han’ kyaa clap” which means you can’t clap with only one hand.
Two Carnival Seasons in Belize
Belize has two carnival celebrations. The first one in the year is the Fiesta de Carnaval. This is on Shrove Tuesday, more commonly known as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday in Louisiana. This celebration is based on the Catholic Lenten calendar. While other countries have large celebrations, this one is smaller in Belize, and could be perfect for a family getaway trip to escape the winter blues.
The second carnival season is during Belize’s September Independence Day celebrations. Independence Day is September 10 but this young nation continues celebration throughout the entire month. This particular celebration is predominant in San Pedro Town on Ambergris Caye and in the north community of Corozal Town. The focus of the carnaval is on the Afro-Caribbean, Mayan and Kriol heritage and traditions of the country.
Throughout the celebrations, beer and rum are shared alongside people enjoying picnics. So, it’s a group party. Street vendors are also on hand to keep the party going.
Early in the year, dancers are divided in various groups so that they can plan elaborate costumes and develop their unique dance moves. When you think of carnival, you may think of the exotic costumes the female dancers wear, but the men also wear peacock and Mayan influenced costumes. The feathered headdresses of the gyrating females though are definitely something that will grab your attention.
Children also participate in the revelry. While their costumes are more moderate, it is no doubt that they are looking forward to being able to participate by creating their own exotic costumes and dance moves. The children’s groups are associated with an adult group. The national slogan of Belize is “Go Slow”, and as a safe and laid-back country, children can enjoy these celebrations too. Families with water-baby children who took early swimming lessons as infants will feel completely at home in the Caribbean, and the kids will love it.
Prizes are given for the best dance groups, floats and musical performers. Given this, the parade can take several hours as it winds through a small town like San Pedro Town. Each group pauses along the route to show off their dance moves. This draws viewers into the action and revelry.
When you attend the carnival parade, it can seem as if everyone is actually part of the parade. The event also draws people from all over Belize, particularly for the Independence Day celebrations. In fact, many Belizeans use this as a time to return home to join in the fun, so the small town of San Pedro Town seems to grow in population. Even those who have immigrated to other countries will use this time to return home.
Partying into the Night
Following the parade, there is a break so that everyone can be rested for the evening events. The most prominent of the evening events is the competition for King and Queen. In San Pedro, this event begins at sunset in the Marian Jones Athletic Stadium. This is a full colorful pageant designed to dazzle everyone who attends. Each participant and group delivers a performance in vibrant and glamorous costumes before onlookers and a panel of judges. These costumes differ from those in the parade, being more elaborate and expensive to make. In the end, a King and Queen are named.
The floats are also judged to decide the best. Each float group tries to outdo all of the others so you may see some unusual features such as Belizean and Mayan designs. Some may even include a bar area! This is what makes the September Independence Day celebrations so exciting. Even the floats get everyone involved. The more striking, clever floats that involve a lot of people are the most fun to watch.
At the end of the day, the calypso and reggae music die down making a stark contrast from the noisy festivities of the day. Carnival may be over but don’t worry. Belizeans love a great party and the country has 13 national holidays, so the next big celebration is always only a few weeks away. When you want to beat the winter blues and soak up some sun, a visit to the nearby country of Belize is a good idea.