Carnival is a big deal in the Caribbean. It’s a party, like Mardi Gras, only it lasts for a whole month. For weeks, there are parades, beauty pageants, food expositions and competitions. Every island on the island chain has their own time to celebrate, so it seems like the party lasts for half the year! St. Thomas’ carnival is usually during April, and St. John’s is in late June/early July, usually around the time of the 4th of July.
Although there are festivities and activities all month long, the grande finale is the last three days of Carnival, which starts with J’ouvert (pronounced Jew-vey). In French, it means dawn or day break. Appropriately, it’s a street dance party that starts before the sun comes up in downtown Charlotte Amalie, around 4:00 a.m. There are bands on trucks that drive down the street playing music, and dance troops that follow them to spread the vibes. On the side of the streets there are stands selling food, water, and, of course, alcohol. The dance party goes all day, well into the afternoon.
J’ouvert is a cause to get dressed up. Almost everyone there was either dressed in a cute outfit or had a costume on. My friends and I spent a lot of time getting ready, but our work was destroyed shortly after we arrived in downtown. Dancers were throwing paint on everyone, and my friend group was one of the first ones to get absolutely soaked. From what I understand, throwing paint isn’t a usual thing, but the 4:00 a.m. dance troop were throwing it on everyone, closely followed by clouds of baby powder! We were covered. No one minded though- everyone danced with everyone and had a good time.
Unfortunately, J’ouvert has a reputation for violence. Over the past ten or fifteen years, younger West Indians have felt the need to make a statement by either shooting or stabbing one of their “enemies.” I think part of the reason that tensions are high at this time is because J’ouvert is such a big holiday for St. Thomas. This year was turned out to be one of the most low-key J’ouverts in years, with only one stabbing and no fatalities. (Last year, quite a few people were shot and killed.) If you go, I would definitely go in a big group and stay on Waterfront where the main party is, without straying too far. That’s what my group did and we didn’t see any violence or felt unsafe.
After J’ouvert ended, a lot of people hung out at The Village. The Village is a section of downtown, right off of Waterfront, where there are game and food booths and rides for Carnival. It’s only there for the last week of Carnival, and there is live music and activities every night. Performers, musicians, DJs… there is always something going on. There is also lots of local food where you can get traditional Caribbean food like Johnny Cakes, Stewed Chicken, Roti, Bullfoot Soup and Soursop juice.
The day after J’ourvert, there is the Children’s Parade. For hours, children walk down the streets of downtown, preforming routines and dancing. There are stands scattered throughout the parade selling things, and there is acknowledgement of all the competition winners. It’s a lot of fun for the younger kids and a chance for families to do activities together.
The day after the Children’s Parade, it’s the final day of Carnival; the Adult’s Parade. This year it was on Saturday, May 3rd. The Adult’s Parade is the big party. Dance troops dance down the streets all day and preform on live T.V. The dance troops are a big deal; everyone is in ornate outfits and many troops practice year round to perfect their routines.
Being in a dance troop is a lot of fun- I joined a more laid-back troop called the Lunatics, originating from La Luna Salon. We practiced once a week for six weeks or so, and the week before the parade we practiced twice. Our theme was V.I. modern Pin-Up girls; we had blue wigs, high-waisted shorts, fishnet stockings and golden shoes. We were all totally cute! We did our hair and make up together the morning of, and during the entire parade we had a truck follow us with volunteers to give us water and drinks if we needed them. The troop was a bit of a financial commitment though; it was $300, and that was the cheapest cost I heard of. However, the fee did cover paying our dance instructor, our costumes, our hair and make up and food and drinks on the day of Carnival.
After the parade, which lasts all afternoon and into the evening, there were fireworks. They set them off right over Waterfront so they burst over the water, and they were absolutely beautiful. It was a wonderful way to end a pretty crazy and really fun three days. I loved celebrating J’ouvert and Carnival on St. Thomas, and the best part is, St. John’s will be in just a few weeks! I can do it all over again!