Carnival, which is Christian in origin (from the Latin carne or meat) refers to the period between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday which marks the start of the forty days of abstinence of Lent. It’s high point is Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday, the last day on which practicing Christians could eat meat. Shrove Tuesday is a day of "bombance" - a word dating back to the sixteenth century and used in New France to mean a copious festive meal. St Barts is no exception to the rule.
A month of festivities!
This colonial feast was soon adopted throughout the West Indies by slaves who took advantage of this period of rule-breaking to mock their masters by integrating masks and costumes into their dances and songs. However, even in St Barts, where Creole culture is historically less strong, West Indian carnival is based purely on these Creole traditions. For an island with so few inhabitants, St Barts boasts a superb carnival.
According to tradition, every weekend as D-day approaches, "La Pointe en Mouvement", the carnival organizing committee, kicks off the festivities with déboulés involving symbolic costumes and dancing to the sound of drums.
The Mardi Gras "Vidé"
This is just a foretaste, because on the real carnival parade day, also called "Vidé", the parade is even more lively and the atmosphere is good-humored. Many groups and hundreds of people parade in costume through the streets of Gustavia behind floats. The most highly-organized groups such as Cassiopeia or Rum Ginger compete with each other to produce the best costumes and dance routines. The less ambitious groups are not to be outdone and add an incredible sense of liveliness to this procession, which is always very spirited and highly colored.
At nightfall, the last groups return to the center of Gustavia, having done a long loop as far as La Pointe. The party continues in the town center and the groups disperse and settle all over town or continue to move through the streets, always to the accompaniment of music and dancing, until late into the night.
Vaval is burning!
The following day, on Ash Wednesday, Vaval, a cloth effigy representing the Carnival King, is burned on Shell Beach in keeping with Creole tradition. Here too, the party is in full swing.
Carnival in St Barts is a party not to be missed, and is without doubt the most popular and friendly event of the year.
Déboulés every weekend from January onwards.
20th February: children’s parade
23rd February: pajama parade
24th February: “Vidé”
25th February: Vaval burning