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Why Junkanoo Carnival is a Must-See on your Bahamas Yacht Charter

Why Junkanoo Carnival is a Must-See on your Bahamas Yacht Charter

In the dark early hours of the 26th December and the 1st January a rhythm sets in Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, and reverberates across the island picking up tempo and carrying a wild ocean of colour as it sways through the streets. The Bahamian festival of Junkanoo, one of the world’s most magical celebrations, is full of energy, colour and happiness and tingles over every inch of your skin to leave an unforgettable impression.

Originating from the days of slavery, slaves were given three days off at Christmas and celebrated by cavorting around the island donning scary masks, playing homemade musical instruments and staggering on stilts in pure elation. Families were reunited and plantation boundaries were lowered making for some of the most euphoric and spectacular revelries. After years of Junkanoo’s wavering popularity the festival returned in full-force and this powerful atmosphere of freedom continues today.

16th century Junkanoo carnival parade in the streetcolourful Junkanoo Festival Poster with man
women on Stilts in Costume Parading at Junkanoo carnival

From the music to the costumes, the festival is distinctively Bahamian. Musicians excite the crowds and power momentum with hypnotic rhythms using goatskin drums, cowbells, whistles and horns whilst a separate brass section creates an infectious beat till dawn. Remaining humble to their ancestors, todays musicians use scraps and empty containers to construct their instruments, stretching goatskin across the drum opening and burning a candle to tighten the skin for tuning.

Whilst Junkanoo festivals have evolved, the notion of remaining close to old traditions echoes throughout the festival and emphasises the significance of the celebrations in regards to the culture, art, history and the community of the island both then and now.

Parade participants arranged in groups of up to 1,000, congregate in the town centre of Bay Street at approximately 02:00am ready to meander and hypnotically whirl through the streets. From your chartered yacht moored along the north of the island, you’ll boast prime position for witnessing this remarkable occasion as it flows past the stern of your boat.

female dancer in colourful Full-body cardboard costume at junkanoo
group of Parade dancers at Junkanoo festival

Whether you choose to remain on your yacht, relishing in the festivities whilst enjoying local delicacies made on-board, or whether you desire to be enveloped in the ecstatic crowds and return to the peace of your yacht later, Junkanoo is the perfect festival to attend with friends and family on a Bahamas yacht charter vacation.

the parade that covers a 2-3mile loop through downtown is a brilliant display of bright costumes, floats and feathers

The festival is extremely well organised to ensure everything runs smoothly and groups are arranged into categories with their own theme from which costume designs are meticulously drawn from. Designs are a carefully guarded secret making the grand revealing even more extraordinary as comments of admiration and gasps of amazement pass between neighbours regarding their magical creations – the product of a year of planning and completing. Made out of crepe paper, costumes are clued together with fabric, cardboard and wire to form opulent headdresses, impressive shoulder-pieces, and voluptuous skirts covered in elaborate colours. Whereas costumes were once discarded as rubbish after the celebrations, they are now being preserved for posterity in the new Junkanoo Expo.

Orange Costume of female dancer at junkanoo carnival in the Bahamas
dancer with Vibrant head and shoulder pieces at junkanoo carnivalmusician with Goatskin drum at junkanoo carnival in the Bahamas

These 3D sculptures dive and rise to the rhythm of the island as vast groups of dancers - up to one thousand participants - create routines that lure the spectators lining the streets, trees, balcony’s and seats like a snake beside them on the sidewalks. Everything is infected with the parades intoxicating presence and there is a sense of timelessness in the collection of celebrations, concerts, and cultural shows.

Whilst competition is fierce and prizes are awarded for the best music, costume and overall group presentation, there remains a jubilant feeling in everyone involved through the process of drawing families, friends and neighbours together for an exhilarating experience. In Nassau, Junkanoo groups include ‘The Valley’, ‘Roots’ and ‘Saxon Super Stars’.

The Valley Boys parade at junkanoo carnival

the festival celebrates the intricate creations of the costumes, instruments and floats that are reaped in the fascinating history of the island

The most extraordinary Junkanoo parade takes place in Nassau, however this intoxicating carnival atmosphere can also be experienced on Grand Bahama Island, Harbour Island, The Exumas and The Abacos. Whether you desire a more low-key experience or the full impression, the islands of the Bahamas will be oozing glee throughout the Christmas season in anticipation for Junkanoo making them an excellent time of year to visit on your charter yacht. Immerse yourself completely in the culture, food and warm Caribbean sun as you meander some of the most beautiful waters. 

It is well worth making the Junkanoo Festival a part of your Christmas and New Year’s yacht charter itinerary for festive celebrations like no other. For more information on creating your perfect winter vacation please contact your preferred charter broker, or take the time to compare all luxury yachts available in the Bahamas.

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