Carnival 2010!

One thing wonderful about going to school in another country is the chance to be immersed in a different culture, get to know its people, and witness its traditions.

With concerts, festivals, street parties, band competitions, pageants, and parades, Carnival season came to St. Maarten this past month, a holiday celebrated throughout the Caribbean, Latin America, and New Orleans (where it is called Mardi Gras). A tradition merging the Catholic, West Indian and African heritages of the region, Carnival is the largest celebration in the Caribbean.

In St. Maarten, Carnival lasts for over 2 weeks from the middle of April to the beginning of May, with events going on every night. This year, there were quite a few Caribbean celebrities who came and performed in the concerts at Festival Village, including Beenie Man and Miguelito. There were also several Jump-Ups in which calypso bands play in moving trucks and people come join in and dance on the street following them. Every year after a street party lasting the whole night, the festival ends with the burning of a straw effigy of King Momo at sunrise, symbolizing the purging of all sins and bad luck.

As Carnival coincided perfectly with my 2-week summer break, Irene and I decided to go check out the Grand Carnival Parade and get a taste of a real Carnival celebration in the Caribbean. The parade began early in the morning in the inland district of St. Peters and lasted throughout the afternoon. After months of planning and anticipation, live bands on trucks, floats, and dancers dressed in extravagant gowns and masks marched down Bush Road, passing Le Grand Marche area, down Front Street in downtown Philipsburg, and then into Festival Village. It was quite a sight.

AUC students often go home during the breaks between semesters. For those of you who decide to stay in St. Maarten after the spring semester, Carnival is a great opportunity for you to experience this island’s rich cultural traditions and have fun at the same time. For those arriving to the island during the April break, many businesses close for several days during the Carnival season on the Dutch side. But as the Dutch and French celebrate Carnival on different months (don’t ask me why), all business remain open on the French side, in case you need groceries.

Irene and I having a great time at Carnival in Downtown Philipsburg.