How to Do a Carnival: Check-list, Lingo & Look Book

PLEASE NOTE: This is a guide on how to specifically prepare for Caribbean and Island Carnivals.



I recently attended Bermuda's Heroes Weekend. Although I have been to a carnival before, I only was there as a bystander for the main parade. It always seemed intimidating for me to ever consider participating:

1. I'm not a big partier

2. I'm not in the best physical shape that I could be in

3. I'm not that familiar with the culture and music

4. and I'm not the best dancer


You can see that I listed obstacles that really only exist in my head.

So, when Bermuda's tourism invited me to 'play mas', I thought that if I ever was going to do it, now is the time.


There's a lot to think about in preparing for an island trip to a carnival. But first, let me lay some foundation about the history of Carnival in the Caribbean. (And yes. I know that Bermuda is not in the Caribbean. Did you?)


What is carnival?


It's a party that mixes African culture and the journey of slavery to freedom. The roots are tied to colonialism, religious conversion, and ultimately freedom. Most Carnivals were birth as celebration of freedoms, and today it’s infused with local tradition, where everyone in the community participates. The first Carnival in the Caribbean was in Trinidad and Tobago in the late 1700’s, and it is considered the best, biggest and wildest party.

Because of the strong Catholic ties of the region, most Caribbean Carnivals occur around Lent. Just like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, which occurs on Fat Tuesday. However, there are carnivals nearly every month of the year - expect September, October, and November - for various reasons. Like in August, Barbados celebrates Crop Over (harvest season). And, in nearly all Carnival towns, it is a holiday - so everyone in the community has the day off from work so that they can participate!

The following list indicates the month the carnival starts. Some celebrations last from one week up to six weeks.

January
Puerto Rico

LENT
February, March, April
Aruba
Bonaire: The Burning of "King Momo"
Cuba
Curacao
Dominica: Jump-up Street Parade
Dominican Republic
Guadeloupe
Guyana (Mashramani)
Haiti: Rural "Rara" Festival and Creole Celebrations
Martinique: Burning of "Vaval," the Carnival King
St. Barts: "Vide" Parade Day 
Trinidad and Tobago: Biggest and most well-known Carnival in the Caribbean

April
Cayman Islands: Batabano
Jamaica: Bacchanal
St. Eustatius: Carnival Village and International Show
St. Martin/Maarten: Balloon Parade and Light Parade
U.S. Virgin Islands: St. Thomas

May
Batabano (Cayman islands)
Bahamas

June
Bermuda: Bermuda Day, Junkanoo, and Heroes Weekend
St. Vincent and the Grenadines: Vincy Mas 

July
British Virgin Islands: Emancipation Festival
Saba: Celebration of the "Old Caribbean"
St. Lucia
U.S. Virgin Islands: on 4th of July!

Watch a Beyond the Usual Fourth of July on the USVI.

August
Anguilla
Antigua
Barbados: Crop Over
Grenada:


December
Bahamas: Junkanoo
Montserrat
St. Kitts and Nevis: Sugar Mas
Turks and Caicos: Junkanoo
U.S. Virgin Islands: St. Croix

*list source: TripSavvy


Dayvee poses at a fete called Euphoria


Carnival Lingo


Now as a rookie, there was a lot of language thrown around that I didn't know the meaning of until I got there. So to save you some embarrassment, here's some common Carnival terms:

-What band you playing with?
Carnival bands are the group you'll roll with on the parade day. You'll have similar and complementary costumes as you follow the truck that carries the band, D.J. and VIP's. 


-playing mas 
Mas is short for masquerade. So, when you say you are going to Carnival, someone may respond with "are you playing mas?" Your answer will be yes if you have a band and will dress up in costume. It will be no if you are just planning to watch on the side of "da road".

-da road
Slang for the road. But, also referred to specifically when speaking of the parade route on Carnival day.

-fetes
It's a party! Pronounced "fet".

-jouvert 
The official start of carnival, typically celebrated in the middle of the night before (i.e. 3a) and goes on  past dawn. The party can be at an event field or through the streets, like a parade. And it gets messy with paint, colored powder, water and sweat.



Dayvee at the Raft Up! Get the swim suit HERE


Typical Events


Raft Ups - parties in the ocean, where you come up on a boat, jet ski or by the beach. They put a stage on a barge in the water, and you enjoy the day.

Wet Fetes - come in your swimsuit, and get ready to be sprayed with water. You’re dancing, drinking, and at some point the DJ will call for the water hose to spray the crowd. Super fun.

Concerts - the most popular Soca artists tour all of the carnivals. But in Bermuda, it is a more intimate carnival, so you get to see the popular artists up close. I got to see the queen, Destra! There are typically concerts every day and night.

Jouvert - probably the most epic of all of the parties. It happens the morning of the parade. You start the party around 3am and dance past the sunrise. It involves paint, powder,  and water. Lots of music and dancing. It is good vibes, all the way.

Other parties - there are parties, happy hours, house gatherings, shop sales, and more on every corner. Some are officially sanctioned and others are thrown by the neighbors. Whatever the case may be, parties cost money. And there's a party at anytime you want it. So, pan your budget and plan your itinerary for as much as you think you can hang!


In Bermuda, I had nine events on my itinerary in a four day stay. I made it to eight events.

Dayvee at Glow, an all white happy hour party.


Check out the round up of parties that I attended during Bermuda's Heroes Weekend. 





Here’s your Carnival packing list


For Fetes

-dancing shoes (comfortable shoes)

-open mind - men will come up and grind

-Be prepared to pay - parties, concerts have a cover fee



Check my instagram for my favorite photos and stories!


For Jouvert

-throw-away shoes (can be the same you’ll use for parade if it goes with your outfit)

-throw away clothing - t-shirt, bra, shorts

-hat, scarf or wig - my option was wig for quick change from Juvert to Carnival parade

-oil - baby, coconut- oil your body prevents paint from sticking...for the most part. If not, it helps it come off after your return

Dayvee's costume. FIRE!


For the main event - the parade

-insoles for your shows, because it is typically on the da road

-comfortable shoes - for dancing, walking and more for hours and hours
*preferably throw-away shoes, because the streets can get messy, and you don’t want your special kicks jacked up

-pasties/boob tape- you won’t get your outfit until you arrive, so you really don’t know if the bra cup will fit properly 

-supportive bra - if you require a bra, general size C or bigger.

-sewing kit and scissors- so you can customize your outfit, if necessary. 
*by the way, you can travel with max 4 inch scissors on TSA. 

-sunblock

-wristlet, fanny pack, or small backpack - for sunblock, cash, ID, hotel card, backup battery, small things


Recommended/Optional

-tights/fishnets - presents a finished look


-glitter - because , it's glitter (and/or flash tattoos)


Look at what I did with my outfit.


I wanted to wear my bra, so I sewed my necklace to the deep-V of the costume.
I always keep a sewing kit, especially black thread, in my travel bag. Also, a decent pair of 4-inch scissors.



Check out the video from my Bermuda Carnival day!



Are you planning to play mas soon? Let us know and we'll post it here!

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