Visitors to St. Kitts in December can look forward to joining with locals in various aspects of the island’s national Carnival celebrations. The St. Kitts Carnival features a unique mix of lively and historic folklore, along with the more conventional elements of the colourful costumed street ‘mas’ that is always found in most Caribbean style festivals. With numerous activities commencing as early as December 5th, the main street activities start on Boxing Day and last through to a two-day New year’s climax. This jubilant, engaging experience for local residents and visitors alike is affectionately called “Sugar Mas” – a most appropriate name that pays respect to the days when the island’s primary economic driver was its sugar industry.
“St. Kitts’ Carnival is a very special time for all Kittitians everywhere and that is why so many of our people return home in December to enjoy our Christmas traditions and folkloric heritage,” commented Senator Ricky Skerritt, Minister of Tourism & International Transport. “Travelers to St. Kitts at this time of year are always enchanted by the vibrant sights and sounds of our heritage and are encouraged to participate in the warmth of our Carnival celebrations.”
The schedule of main events for this year’s St. Kitts’ Carnival is as follows:
Friday, December 26 J’ouvert Street Jam
Sunday, December 28 National Queen Pageant
Monday, December 29 Senior Calypso Monarch Finals
Tuesday, December 30 Miss Caribbean Talented Teen Pageant
Wednesday, December 31 Junior Carnival Parade
Wednesday, December 31 New Year’s Eve Gala (Members Only)
Thursday, January 1 Grand Carnival Parade
Friday, January 2 Las Lap
The brilliant folkloric street displays are truly the heart of the St. Kitts’ Carnival, including the traditional Bull, Masquerade, Moko-Jumbies and Clowns. The Bull is a comedic play that acts out an exaggeration of an incident reported to have taken place in the early 1900s and continues today as one of the surviving features of earlier Christmas street pageants. Masquerade, in turn, showcases dancers dressed in vividly colored and bejeweled costumes, including elaborate feathered headdresses and masks. The awe-inspiring stilt walkers, or Moko-Jumbies, have their origins in African mythology and thrill onlookers as they walk and dance on six- to eight-foot stilts. Meanwhile, the Clowns are somewhat of an enigma in the English-speaking Caribbean and are thought to be the legacy of a 17th century French governor who resided on St. Kitts.
If these street displays are Carnival’s heart, then music is its soul. Played throughout nearly every activity during the celebration, the traditional sounds of string, steel and brass bands are complimented by the intoxicating rhythms hammered out from old oil drums magically converted to chrome covered steel pan musical instruments. Street jams dominate the landscape, with the most popular jam taking place on J’ouvert, signaling the end of Christmas and the launching of Carnival into full swing before it draws to a close with the onset of the New Year.
Throughout much of the world, the main features of Carnival are masquerades and parades. On St. Kitts it is so much more, blending elements of African, European and regional influences in a profound and multifaceted artistic expression of national pride, cultural traditions and heritage through song, dance, drama, poetry and music in a variety of competitions, performances and street activities. Meanwhile, the spirit of Christmas is kept alive through a series of evening gospel type concerts in downtown Basseterre.
St. Kitts’ Carnival also stands out from most others due to its family-friendly nature. Both the young and old eagerly participate and there are events for specific age groups, such as the Talented Teen contest, Children’s Carnival and both junior and adult calypso competitions. Local food and drinks are available everywhere, from saltfish cakes and black pudding to ginger beer and sorrel.