With the St. Maarten Carnival coming to a close this week, we thought it would be fun to explore the history of this treasured island tradition. Today, Carnival is known as nearly a month full of parades, music, dancing, delicious food, and feather and glitter costumes that make even your most colorful outfits seem tame. But how did it get to be what it is today?
Where it All Began
The now two-plus-weeks of festivities that we are familiar with today started out as an initiative by the Oranje Committee to celebrate the various holidays of the island. The government wanted to create something similar to St. Thomas’ Carnival in order to bring in tourism and celebrate the island’s culture and history. They sent two committee members to go and check out just how St. Thomas does it, with the goal of recreating it in St. Maarten.
The first ever Carnival took place on November 11th, the 1970’s St. Maarten’s Day. Due to the lack of funds provided by the government and excitement about the new tradition, many local businesses donated to the festivities, including tickets, bands and troupes, food and drinks, and even free electricity.
So why the difference in dates now? When the French side started hosting St. Maarten’s Day on their side of the island it stole a little bit of Carnival’s thunder. So The Oranje Committee chose April 30th, the Queen’s birthday, to host the Grand Carnival Parade. This choice was a combination of culture and economics, because the date landed on the end of the tourism season in Sint Maarten and the end of the St. Thomas carnival. With a desire to keep the good times rollings, more and more festivities started to take place around the 30th, creating the multi-day festival that we’re used to today.
What it is Now
Carnival is now one of the island’s largest attractions and the biggest event of the year. With 17-plus days full of parades, calypso competitions, reggae bands, feathers, glitter, dancing, and plenty of drinks and food, Carnival will leave you with memories that have you grinning from ear to ear. Every day is filled with an exciting event celebrating the island’s rich history and culture.
This year, Carnival started on April 14th with the official opening of Carnival Village, and will continue until May 3rd. The biggest event, the Grand Carnival Parade, takes place on April 30th and inspires thousands to come out and see the costumes, dancers, and singers, and try an endless amount of local dishes and cocktails.
The people responsible for all of the fun is the St. Maarten Carnival Development Foundation (SCDF), an official group made up of volunteers. They are the ones who find the food and entertainment and see all the day to day operations of Carnival, ensuring that the only thing guests have to worry about is where they’re going to get their next Johnny Cake.
Even though we’re sad that this year’s festivities are coming to an end, we’re already planning our costumes for next year’s Carnival!