Caribbean Religious Festivals

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Getting That Old Time Religion


Here are some of the better known religious festivals throughout the Caribbean. Some are strictly religious observances while others also include a celebration of some sort.

If a Caribbean religious festival involves church attendance and you wish to attend, dress appropriate. You don't need a coat and tie or dress but no shorts and t-shirts. Islanders always dress for church in their best.  

Major Caribbean Religious Festivals

Hurricane Supplication Day, U.S. Virgin Islands. Held on the 4th Monday in July. The island closes down and locals go to church to pray for mercy during the coming storm season.

Hurricane Thanksgiving Day Held the fourth Monday of October in the U.S. Virgin Islands. But with storms arriving as late as November, this holiday obviously is held too early. It was first observed on St. Thomas in 1726 when a Christian pastor led a a service giving thanks for his community being spared hurricane destruction that year. The holiday spread to all the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Festival of St. Barthelemy, August 24, St. Barts. Commemoration of the island’s patron saint with official ceremonies, regattas, various games, dancing, fireworks, and live music on the Quai Général de
Gaulle, Gustavia.

Feast of St. Louis, St. Barthelemy (St. Barts). Held August 25. Celebrated on the beach at the village of Corossol with tournaments, regattas, games, raffle, dances and live music on the  beach in the streets of Corossol.

Festival of the Black Christ, Portobello, Panama. Held every Oct. 21. Most of the year the life-size figure of a black Christ (Cristo Negro) is venerated inside the Iglesia de San Felipe Roman Catholic church. The figure is famous as,a renowned healing shrine. On October 21, the statue is placed on a float and paraded through the city of Portobello. The celebration is accompanied by prayers, cockfights, games of chance and lots of drinking.

Dera Gai or St. John's Day, Aruba (June 23-24): "Dera gai" is a holiday with elements believed to have originated in Southern Mexico. Now celebrated in Aruba as the feast day of St. John the Baptist, it gives thanks for a successful harvest. (Aruba grows relatively little produce. A "fisherman's birthday" would be more appropriate. But tradition is important.)

On June 23rd, Dia de Jan Juan, starts with farmers burning remnants of corn sticks to prepare for a new planting and harvesting period. The main celebration on the evening of June 24 features several parts.

“Dera gai” means " burying a rooster" and a live one was put in the ground to thank the gods for a successful harvest. As the rooster was buried only up to its neck, blindfolded were given three attempts to knock off its head with a stick. The winner got a bottle of alcohol. Also the fields were burned.

Catholics thought all this symbolized the beheading of John the Baptist. Pagans thought the rooster's blood fertilized the earth for the next growing season. Today "dera gai" involves song and dancing in costumes of yellow (representing flowers) and red (fire) and men jumping over lit wood. Blindfolded men use a stick to try and hit a pumpkin or a plastic rooster, not the real thing. A song that is sung during the stick bashing reveals the spirit of the festival. The lyrics (apparently from 1862) are found here.

Fiesta de San Juan Bautista or St. John the Baptist Festival, in Venezuela's Barlovento windward coastal villages. Held in late June. Figures of the saint are carried into the water, children are baptized along with local dancing to the beat of tambor drums. This sometimes is called also called Saint John's Eve or Saint John's
Night

Fisherman's Birthday, Grenada: Held June 29 to honor St. Peter, the patron saint of Christian fishermen everywhere. The day begins with a church service followed by the priest's blessing of the fleet. Then lots of eating and drinking.

  

Fisherman's Feast, St. Lucia: St. Lucia's June 29 version of the Fisherman's Birthday with religious services, blessing of boats and boat huts and plenty of eating.

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