Island hopper (November/December 2006)

What’s happening in the Caribbean in November and December

Illustration by Marlon Griffith

It’s Christmas time in the islands, but forget about old St Nick to spice things up. From Trinidad and Tobago to Cuba, the Caribbean has enough activity to make the season jolly. With sporting activities, music festivals, and — yes — at least one Carnival, the Christmas season offers many chances for Caribbean people to expend their seemingly boundless energies.

It all begins on a sombre note, though, as Roman Catholics throughout the islands remember their loved ones on the feasts of All Saints and All Souls (1 and 2 November). Relatives pray and groom the graves of their departed loved ones by day, and beautify them with lighted candles at night. For those who consider hanging out in a cemetery too macabre but are looking for a quiet affair, the Antigua Literary Festival (2 to 5 November) may be a better alternative. The first-time event features Terry McMillan and Antigua-born Jamaica Kincaid and Marie-Elena John. Proceeds from the festival will go towards rebuilding the country’s library, which was destroyed by fire in 1974.

Anguilla also beckons visitors to relax in scenic surroundings, but with the sound of music, at the annual Tranquillity Jazz Festival (9 to 12 November). Jazz enthusiasts will enjoy the sounds of vocalist Nnenna Freelon, saxophonist Michael Carvin, and Latin jazz musician Eddie Palmieri, among others.

No month of the year in the Caribbean is complete without a food festival. On 25 November, the Turks and Caicos Conch Festival will tickle your gastronomic juices with dishes from more than fifteen restaurants. Celebrity judges will declare the winner. After all that good food, you may want to work off the extra pounds, so head to Jamaica’s Reggae Marathon (30 November to 3 December), which will see athletes run to the sounds of reggae blasting along the Negril route.

And if a marathon just isn’t enough, then fly down to Barbados for a round of golf at the World Golf Championships World Cup (5 to 10 December), held at the Sandy Lane golf course, the famous site of Tiger Woods’s nuptials in 2004. If you’re looking for an activity that fills your sports quota and incorporates some good liming, head back to Antigua for the Antigua Charter Yacht Show, the largest in the world and the show that officially kicks off the yachting season in the Caribbean. Running from December 6 to 11, the exhibition usually attracts some of the world’s most impressive yachts, which are open for viewing by attendees. English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour turn into party central, and with cocktail evenings and wine tasting planned, the event will be ideal for socialising.

A couple of Caribbean countries manage to blend the spirit of Christmas with the bacchanalia of Carnival. St Kitts Carnival opens with a street parade launch, followed by calypso shows, queen pageants, street jamming, and parties, culminating with the parade of troupes and bands and the last lap jam on 1 January, 2007. In the Bahamas, Junkanoo bands “rush” in downtown Nassau on Boxing Day (26 December) and New Year’s Day (1 January) — see the feature on page 48 for more information.

Those yearning for something more in keeping with the yuletide can head to Trinidad for the National Parang Competition (16 December), when parranderos square off in the grand finale of community parang festivals throughout the country, in which groups serenade audiences with the Spanish-language songs. Parang also thrives in the Grenadine island of Carriacou, where the 29th annual Parang Festival (15 to 17 December) has a competitive element but also features open-air street concerts, carol singing, and live entertainment from international performers. And St Vincent’s indigenous pre-Christmas festival, Nine Mornings, features street dances, competitions, story-telling, and pre-dawn festivals each day from December 16 to 24.

On Christmas day (25 December), kick back and relax.