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A troop of Junkanoo dancers in Nassau Bahamas

All About Junkanoo

Posted by: Nassau Paradise Island on December 05, 2018

Nothing embodies the spirit of celebration quite like Bahamian culture. Dubbed the “Islands of Song”, The Bahamas is home to one of the Caribbean’s most iconic carnivals: a captivating kaleidoscope of colour and sound known as Junkanoo. Nassau & Paradise Island’s biggest and most beloved festival, Junkanoo takes place in the early morning hours of Boxing Day (December 26th) and New Year’s Day. At the stroke of midnight, the community bursts forth in a dazzling showcase of traditional music and dance, along with vibrant colours, larger-than-life costumes, and an infectious spirit of unbridled jubilation.

Interested in experiencing this uniquely Bahamian celebration for yourself? Read on to learn more about the origins and traditions of Junkanoo, along with where and how you can join in all the island fun for yourself.

How Did Junkanoo Start?

Though the Junkanoo festival dates back hundreds of years, its exact origins remain the subject of much debate and speculation. Some say the festival was named in tribute to John Canoe, a Ghanaian tribal chief turned popular folk hero famed for his steadfast resistance to British colonial rule. Others suggest that the name derives from French gens inconnu or “unknown people” — a reference to the masquerade-style disguises donned by 18th-century revellers in the earliest Junkanoo parades.

The most widely accepted theory, however, traces its roots to the days of chattel slavery, when the celebration is said to have marked one of the few holidays from work granted to enslaved Africans during the year. Released temporarily from the demands of their labour, the community would gather together to sing, dance, don colourful disguises, and travel from house to house, sometimes on stilts. Whichever origin story you find most persuasive, one thing is certain — when it comes to unforgettable moments of celebration, it’s better in The Bahamas.

How is Junkanoo Celebrated?

Junkanoo festivities have taken many forms over the holiday’s centuries-long history, but today, it is primarily celebrated with a grand parade spotlighting the best of traditional Bahamian music, dance, and culture. The festival’s distinctive style of music blends elements of West African drumming and American blues — with an unmistakable Caribbean flair. Whistles, cowbells, horns, and goombay drums (an upright drum traditionally made from goatskin hide) all come together in a cheerful cacophony.

Participants in the Junkanoo parade, sometimes numbering more than a thousand, spend months constructing elaborate, brightly coloured costumes from the simplest of materials, including cardboard, crepe paper, feathers, and beads. These elaborate getups combine with rhythmic dancing and toe-tapping beats to create an immersive, irresistible feast for the senses.

Musicians play on Goombay drums at the Junkanoo Carnival in Nassau Paradise Island Bahamas

Where Can I Experience Junkanoo?

Junkanoo is celebrated throughout The Bahamas and across other parts of the Caribbean. For those seeking that authentic Junkanoo experience, one of the biggest and most iconic celebrations happens right here in our own backyard. Beginning in the early hours of Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, lively Bay Street bursts into a spirited symphony of traditional Bahamian music and dance, where visitors are warmly welcomed.

Are you joining us here in Nassau & Paradise Island over the upcoming holiday season? Whether you’re planning a visit specifically for Junkanoo or are just learning about this jubilant national festival for the very first time, there are plenty of ways to immerse yourself in the joy of Junkanoo during your stay.

Take a deep dive into the history of Junkanoo in The Bahamas, see traditional costume pieces and instruments, and try your hand at making your very own mask at the Educulture Junkanoo Museum in downtown Nassau. Bid orevwa (that’s “goodbye” in Bahamian creole) to 2023 in style at Baha Mar’s Dancing on the Moon New Year’s Bash — the perfect prelude to your Bay Street revelry. Or, if you won’t be here for the traditional dates but still want to partake in a little Junkanoo fun, take advantage of Atlantis Paradise Island’s Junkanoo Rush Out, a mini parade and street fair celebrated each Tuesday and Friday evening in the resort’s Marina Village beginning at 9 pm.

Discover the Junkanoo Joy for Yourself

If you’re dreaming of a uniquely Bahamian experience, the festivities of Junkanoo mark the ideal time for a getaway to Nassau & Paradise Island. It’s a time locals prepare for and look forward to all year long: a chance to celebrate the one-of-a-kind music, dance, history, and culture of The Bahamas in a truly unforgettable fashion.

So what are you waiting for? Start planning your visit to Paradise, and make this holiday season one you’ll never forget.

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