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Caribbean Festivals Show Island Culture

Cold winters mean many travelers head to the Caribbean for a break from the snow and ice, but freezing temperatures aren't the only reason to stop in on these islands. No matter what your interests are, you're sure to find something to do in the islands year-round, particularly when you consider the many delightful festivals that take place on the isles.

Carnival Events

The best-known Caribbean festival is Carnival, which is sometimes spelled "Carnaval." Many islands celebrate this annual event just before Ash Wednesday, but the dates do vary from island to island. This event is generally an island-wide party, so while some parents with younger children may not consider Carnival the most appropriate festival, those interested in experiencing a genuine slice of island culture will usually enjoy this event.

These traditional Carnival dates are followed throughout much of the Dutch and French Antilles: Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Barthelemy, and Saint Martin - but not Sint Maarten. The Dominican Republic, Dominica, Montserrat, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Trinidad and Tobago also share these Carnival dates.

In Sint Maarten, the Cayman Islands, Haiti, and Jamaica, Carnival falls directly during Easter week, while those in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico continue their celebrations from the week before into Easter itself. Vacationers can enjoy Carnival on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands toward the end of April.

With Sint Eustatius (also known as Statia), St. Lucia, and Antigua and Barbuda travelers can take part in the festivities of a Caribbean Carnival in July. Grenada's Carnival falls in August while St. Kitts' is celebrated for a week beginning on Christmas Eve.

Each island has its own style of celebration, but one thing you can be sure to find is a distinct expression of an island's culture. Carnival is particularly known for its festivities filled with colorful and traditional characters from island lore. Often, a king and queen are named for the event and, though all Carnival celebrations include music, on some islands musicians vie for competitive titles. If you're looking for a sure way to see and hear the best the islands have to offer, Carnival is one cultural event you shouldn't miss.

Mass Music

Music may be required for Carnival celebrations, but it is also something islanders take particular pride in. Islands often host annual festivals featuring the cream of the crop in reggae, jazz, soca, and more. With so many music festivals in the region, it's easy to find one year-round.

One of the most popular festivals in the Caribbean, the Barbados Jazz Festival is called "Paint it Jazz." The event is generally held early in the year, around the middle of January, which is the same month a different type of crowd comes to the U.S. Virgin Islands for the St. Croix Blues and Heritage Festival. Travelers can enjoy Jamaican styles at the Negril Music Festival the following month.

In May, the sounds of jazz are everywhere. Curaçao's KLM Jazz Festival happens early in the month, but mid-month the St. Lucia International Jazz Festival opens its

doors. At the end of May, those who like jazz can also stop in at the Jazz Festival on Antigua or visit Puerto Rico for the Heineken Jazz Festival.

Sample something different in June at the St. Kitts Music Festival, or enjoy Jamaican jazz at the Ocho Rios Jazz Festival. Those who enjoy reggae may also want to be on the island in late July or early August for the Reggae Sumfest. Latin dance fans also have something to look forward to in July, when the Dominican Republic hosts the Merengue Festival.

Curaçao invites travelers to experience jazz again at the Curaçao Jazz Festival in early October, but those who would like to stop in the Dominican Republic can also enjoy the Annual Jazz Festival early in the month. While Jamaica kicks things off in November with the Air Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival, Trinidad is host to the Pan Jazz Festival mid-month.

Those who like music, particularly jazz, will always find it in the Caribbean, but a music festival in these islands is a unique experience. Throughout the Caribbean you'll find these and plenty more musical festivals to enjoy each year.

Local Socials

While some loves and festivals, like music and Carnival, are shared throughout the Caribbean region, each island has its own unique festivals as well. These many include Independence Day or the celebration of a ruler's birth, there are some traditional festivals that differ among the islands. Of course, most islands host plenty of local festivals, but some of the most famous parties include the following:

*Reggae lovers will find plenty to enjoy on the island of Jamaica around January 6th, when Reggae Sunsplash coincides with the Bob Marley Birthday Bash.

*Puerto Rico celebrates its agriculture with a Coffee Harvest Festival for its popular mountain brew. You can celebrate alongside the locals in mid-February.

*Pirates Week is a popular time to enjoy the Cayman Islands, especially for the young at heart, while the islands celebrate their history. Pirates come to the spotlight alongside the islands' seafaring past during the last week of October.

*The nautically inclined can also enjoy Antigua Sailing Week at the end of April. This popular celebration has included as many as 1,500 participants, with 5,000 onlookers watching some of the world's top sailors.

*Historically, Barbadian field workers celebrated the end of the growing season in July or early August, and this tradition has carried forward in the form of Barbados' Crop Over Festival, one of the best-known Caribbean events.

No matter when you're planning a trip to the islands, you're sure to encounter a culture with a cause for celebration. On some islands, towns each have their own local festivals and events, while on others you may find commonly celebrated Caribbean pastimes. Either way, celebrations are a fun way to round out any trip to the Caribbean.

About the author:

Jennifer Smith writes for StLucia-Guide.info, Jamaica-Guide.info, and other Segisys travel Web sites.

© 2005, Interactive Internet Websites, Inc. Article may only be reprinted if it is not modified in any way, and if all links remain live.

Written by: Jennifer Smith

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