The air around me pulses with the rhythm of the Caribbean. All around me, the crowd lining the street moves to the beat of the music. This is not America, where we stood stoically and watched parade floats drift by. This is the isle of Sint Maarten, and we are a part of the sound and color here.
Today, it is a holiday. It is Carnival, and the children are marching in their very own parade. Miniature dancers twirl in miniature costumes, nearly unrecognizable in paint, feathers, and glitter.
The winners of last week’s junior pageant are here, dressed in their royal finery. They wave to us with the queen’s wave, and we wave back.
The parade is filled with the heroes of a child’s word– princesses, super heroes, minions, even Kung Fu Panda!
My personal favorite were the candy dancers. I loved their giant hoop skirts and sweet designs.
Ben liked the Lionfish Dancers. Their costumes really did look like the fantastic “feathers” of a lionfish!
Although this event was not popular with the tourists, hundreds of locals turned out. Many of the other expat families also came to watch! Some American University of the Caribbean students’ children came to watch friends march in the parade.
If you want to see the future of the Caribbean, this is the place to come. All around me, I saw the future of the islands in the faces of the children. If we want to invest in tomorrow, we must invest in them! Perhaps the whole reason for the junior parade is to remind us of this.
Isn’t a Caribbean Carnival on everyone’s bucket list? It’s on mine! In a few days, that item will be checked off as Sint Maarten’s Carnival kicks off.
Because we’re in the Caribbean and we take any excuse to celebrate, there are several events leading up to actual Carnival. One of these is the Light Parade!
Sandy, Stacey, Aqiyla and I went to Philipsburg to enjoy the music and confetti that lit up the night.
One of the local kids told me that the buildings shake during Carnival. I thought he was kidding, but sure enough, the vibrarions could be felt in the very air. All around us, the environment pulsed to the beat of Caribbean rhythms.
Twirling skirts, bright eyes, steel drums and johnnycakes… this is Sint Maarten’s Day! Upon hearing about this holiday, my first question was whether the day celebrated the island’s heritage or the actual feast day of Saint Martin. As it turns out, it celebrates both. According to the story of the island’s earliest known history, Christopher Columbus stumbled upon our island paradise on November, 11, 1483–Saint Martin’s Feast Day– and named the island in honor of the day. Today, Saint Martin the man is more or less ignored, and the island people celebrate their heritage and homeland.
Ben and I had been looking forward to this day since we landed here because American University of the Caribbean gives its students Sint Maarten’s Day off classes. I was also looking forward to the day-long cultural celebration in Philipsburg, the capitol district. We took a bus in the early afternoon to join the throngs of people in the streets of the capitol. The air was absolutely electric with energy!
I immediately felt a little out of place– virtually everyone else was rocking red, white, and blue t-shirts; most of them even had patriotic designs! I was wearing a green skirt with a pink top. Oops. We went in search of Saint Maarten t-shirts. I could see that many of the stores in the shopping district were selling such apparel, but all the stores were closed, as per the law of the land. We finally found some in Festival Village, but all they had left were XXLs. “They run small,” offered the lady at the booth apologetically. I said no thanks, but bought a Sint Maarten flag.
Festival Village, a large, purple outdoor complex on Pond Island, was filled with shouts, laughter, bubbles, and flashing lights. The kids were having a heyday on the inflatable bouncers! Their parents enjoyed fried food and bottles of soda at gaily decorated food stands around the edge of the complex. Under a canopy, domino players determinedly focused on their annual tournament.
The schedule said the parade would start at 3:00, so we made our way through the streets, under the bunting-covered palm trees, to where the parade would begin. We waved at a recording drone that hovered overhead and watched the crowd fill up the streets.
The crowd thickened around us and began to build upward– people appeared in second-story windows, on balconies, and on their daddies’ shoulders. We smiled and greeted people we know as they pressed through the crowd to their favorite parade-watching spot.
Ten minutes passed, half an hour, fifty minutes, an hour. Finally, we heard the sound of steel drums and dancing feet. True to Sint Maarten, the parade started on “island time.” Nobody seemed bothered. We crowded closer together and strained to catch a glimpse of the first dancers.
Sint Maarten is home to people of many heritages, so cultural St. Maarten dance is diverse. My favorite were the women in hoop skirts who twirled and whirled down the street. Click on the thumbnails below to get a better look at the photos. So much color, so much movement! The women danced to the rhythm of the drumbeats that filled the streets and echoed off the buildings.
People of all ability levels participated in the parade
Women dancing in cultural dress
Dancing with a hoop skirt
Miss St. Maarten and her amazing skirt
Women dancing in cultural dress
Fruit market queen
Dancing man in cultural dress
We loved the drums! I couldn’t help but dance a little myself. The whole crowd swayed and pulsed with the beat of the drums. The Jolly Boys, a local band, played their calypso beats as they drifted by on a float.
Steel drum band
The drums were awesome
Band on a float
What’s a parade without the smiles of children? There were dozens and dozens of kids in the parade– some dancing in patriotic tulle dresses, some dressed in historical garb holding their mothers’ hands, some waving like princesses and others peeking through windows.
smiling “market” girl
Kids in straw hats
Steel drum band
Cute kid in the parade
Cute girl in the parade
Boys dressed as salt pickers
The car enthusiasts also contributed to the parade. This taxi is a little spiffier than the ones you usually see on the roads, but it still has the typical giant front-window sticker.
Unofficial motocycle parade
Da Party Bus!
This is my friend Lisa. She marched in the parade wearing cultural dress. The cultural clothing was probably the most visually interesting part of the celebration. There were clothes from every era in every style, from the drab and dirty slacks of the salt pickers to the Princess Julianna dress with a hoop skirt the size of New Jersey. I was excited to see professors from Ben’s school, American University of the Caribbean, representing the school and rocking salt picker hats!
American University of the Caribbean professors dressed as salt pickers
Flag monument float
Princess Julianna dress
Women dressed as colonial gentry
Women dressed in cultural dress with baskets on their heads
Dutch house float
I was amazed at the stilt-walkers! The parade lasted about an hour and a half, and these people walked on stilts the whole time. That takes some serious skill. There were probably fifteen of these– I wonder who made the clothes for them? Equally as cool were the living statues. They looked so real! I’m not sure, but I think they were based on some of the statues on Sint Maarten’s round-a-bouts. This side of the island has more round-a-bouts than intersections, and each one has a statue with local significance.
As the sun began to sink, the parade marched to its final destination– Festival Village. Tired dancers and sweaty but happy walkers disbanded and began to enjoy the celebrations for themselves.
Happy Sint Maarten’s Day, everyone! What a wonderful way to celebrate our island home.