The Bahamas is one of the best vacations you can imagine for yourself. With over 700 islands and beautiful blue seas, the Bahamas is an ideal Caribbean destination.
Find yourself in the Bahamas for your Christmas vacation and experience the islands’ most colourful and joyous festival, Junkanoo.
Like many other Caribbean celebrations and Carnivals, Junkanoo’s origin stems from the Bahamas’ history of slavery. Junkanoo, named after the West African John Canoe Festival, originated in the Bahamas around the 17th century as a masquerade. Slaves with their faces hidden under a flour paste, celebrated on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) and New Year’s Day. This was one of the few days that slaves were given rest from their forced labours. There could be no better reason to celebrate than a break from hard labour. To express their joy, Junkanooers blew bugles and horns, and beat on goatskin drums creating unique rhythms and sounds that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. But Junkanoo was more than enjoying a ‘day off’ from hard work, it was a celebration of life.
Just mention the word Junkanoo to any Bahamian at home or abroad and you’d witness a transformation in their demeanour; their faces light up and you can feel their pride and joy. Junkanoo is a real Bahamian Celebration. Junkanoo has been celebrated for more than 200 years in the Bahamas. It is widely celebrated in the capital, Nassau, and is the largest celebration among the islands.
While Junkanoo shares some similarities with other Caribbean carnivals, this festival is still quite unique. Junkanoo is all about the authentic Bahamian spirit. It is a grand parade celebrated on Bay Street in Nassau and on many of the Out Islands. Junkanoo represents spirituality and the celebration of freedom and life for Bahamians.
Bahamians prepare for Junkanoo festivities for months or even a year in advance. Half of the fun comes from creating and making your own costume. Many revellers spend months in advance handcrafting their costumes for Junkanoo!
From June or July onwards, participating groups such as the Valley Boys, The Saxons, and Roots, create elaborate costumes and float designs made out of cardboard, wire, Styrofoam and Papier Mache.
When the festival first began, costumes were originally designed with whatever was available to the Africans. They used sponge, feathers, flowers and leaves – whatever was indigenous to them.
At present, costumes often feature cardboard, paper-mâché, beads and colourful paints.
Junkanoo typically starts from Christmas night into Boxing Day. Revellers parade, or ‘rush’ on Bay Street in Nassau, and in some of the smaller islands. Shrieking whistles, shaking cowbells and beating drums echo through the night. Just think Mardi Gras or Rio Carnival but with a Bahamian twist. And what a way to celebrate Christmas. No one does Christmas quite like the Bahamians.
When the ‘rushes’ end, at about 8:00 am on Boxing Day, prizes are awarded to groups with best costumes, music and theme portrayal.
The energy of the masqueraders, the rhythmic sounds, and vibrant colours charge your senses. Participants and onlookers alike say they can still hear the vibrating rhythms days after Junkanoo ends.
Another unique and important feature of Junkanoo celebrations is the music. Junkanoo music is typically expressed in drums, brass, horns, cowbells, rake and scrape instruments and whistles all inspired by West African musical traditions.
In watching the Junkanoo scene you’d notice the drastic contrast between the costumes then (1965) to what exists today. New technology, better quality materials and an evolution un design shows an improvement today over then. The costumes in the James Bond scene are more “traditional” with the layers of fringed tissue and paper—no feathers or mirrors were involved. But the themes and the spirit remain the same then and now.
Be sure to pencil in the Bahamas for one of your Christmas holidays. You’re guaranteed a Christmas experience like no other if you experience Junkanoo. You will not be disappointed.
Kevon Wilson, is a premier researcher and strategist. He has more than 16 years’ experience in research and digital marketing.
He is co-author of many of Leve Global’s research publications such as Big Data – Delivering the Big Picture to Drive Competitiveness, Everything You Need to Know About Internet Marketing, and The Top Ten Emerging Markets.