The Christmas season is a time for celebration across the Caribbean, but nowhere does it quite like St. Kitts and Nevis. The biggest event of the year—not just of the holiday season—is undeniably the Sugar Mas Carnival. Though the official festivities span from November 17, 2017 to January 6, 2018 this year, the celebrations really kick into high gear in the period of time between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Named Sugar for sugar cane which has played an important part in the Islands’ history and economy and Mas, as in short for masquerade, this vibrant carnival turns the streets in both St. Kitts and Nevis into a non-stop party.
Visitors can expect to hear bands playing the lively sounds of soca and calypso music and a whole range of costumed characters including clowns in baggy pants and head-dresses and “Moko-Jumbies”, who defy gravity by dancing fearlessly on stilts. J’ouvert parades bring troupes from all over the island dressed in colourful costumes trying to outdo each other with their dancing skills.
Other competitions are taken a little more seriously. There is a Carnival Queen pageant featuring extravagant costumes and Talented Teen competition for younger residents. But by far the most highly contested event is the calypso contest—winners gain notoriety throughout the entirety of the West Indies—which is won as much through musical skill as for the satire, and humour that is included in the performances.
The grand finale of the month-long events is the Grand Parade on January 1, a culmination of performances, celebrations, music, and much dancing.
While St. Kitts and Nevis may be know for its party atmosphere, Christmas celebrations in Antigua and Barbuda are decidedly more laid back. There’s still plenty of revelry to be found for those who are looking for it, but the overall vibe is a lot more easy going and peaceful.
Christmas celebrations begin as early as November, but rather than parties and parades, they take the form of decorations, lights, and smaller festivals. Not to mention lots of delicious dishes like pork and pigeon beans, pumpkin, and the island drink sorrel—a fruity punch often infused with cloves, spices, and rum at this time of the year.
On Christmas Eve, many stores stay open late for last minute shoppers, and carollers and street performers make their rounds filling the warm tropical air with music. Christmas Day is usually spent with friends and family and often includes a BBQ on the beach. Another Christmas Day tradition is the Champagne Party in Nelson’s Dockyard. In addition to plenty of food and you guessed it—Champagne—there’s also lots of socializing, live music, and dancing.
An interesting element of holiday celebrations in Antigua & Barbuda is the influence of Scottish traditions. As a former colonial nation, there is a distinct British flair to the islands, but at Christmas time it’s not uncommon to see troupes of Highland Dancers performing complete with traditional kilts.