How Carnival is Celebrated on Curaçao
“Karnaval di Kòrsou” is the biggest and most anticipated event on the island, and for a good reason! During the Carnival season in Curaçao, the whole island transforms into one big colorful party that takes possession of the whole community through group preparations, competitions, public parties, and street parades that start in the first weeks of the year, and end in the month of March preceding the Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent). So, if you’re planning to visit Curaçao in the first quarter of the year, you can rest assured that you’ll be coming in one of the best times to visit the island.
Let’s take a look at the history of the Carnival, what the changes have been over the years, and what you can expect in modern-day Carnival celebrations on Curaçao.
The history of Carnival in the Caribbean
During the times of colonization throughout the 16th and 19th century, the wealthy European plantation owners in the Caribbean islands would host fancy balls as a way to continue the celebration traditions of their motherlands. They would dress nicely, wear masks and put on wigs. The slaves and their descendants – following their master’s example – would also hold small celebrations in their backyards using their own ancient rituals, costumes, and folklore. At times, they would also imitate their master’s behavior and wear masks.
As the years went by, the descendants of these slaves – passionate about their background and eager to have a form of self-expression of their own – went on to take these celebrations to the streets and to the whole community. This new type of celebration soon raised in popularity, surpassing even the fanciest types of balls in the society.
A special type of Carnival rises in Curaçao
The Dutch colonists in Curaçao also brought with them their European costumes and ball traditions. Given Curaçao’s historic strategic location in the heart of the Caribbean, the island was always populated by many different nationalities who formed a highly multicultural society that is still clearly existent in Curaçao’s population nowadays. In particular the immigrants of Asiatic lands, the Creole middle class and the immigrants from Eastern Caribbean Islands and South America – who came in masses to work in the oil industry – created a unique mix of Carnival parties and street parades in their neighborhoods, following the growing popularity of Carnival in the Caribbean.
With the insertion of “Tumba” (the island’s typical Carnival music form) after the first half of the 20th century, Carnival in Curaçao became without a doubt the largest and most important manifestation of culture on the island. It’s an event that attracts hundreds of thousands of people from around the world and that grows in dimension and popularity each year.
Modern-day Carnival celebrations on Curaçao
The Carnival season’s opening takes place in the first week of January. Thereafter, the island is in full anticipation to the beginning of the “Festival di Tumba” (“Tumba’s Festival”) in the first week of February at what is commonly referred to as the “Paradise of Tumba”; the Festival Center in the Brievengat area.
The “Festival di Tumba” in Curaçao is highly anticipated because the “Tumba King” gets chosen in a fierce, four-day musical competition that marks the rhythm of the Carnival season and the famous tune “Tumba di Karnaval” (Carnival’s Tumba) that will be played in all upcoming parties and parades in the weeks to come.
After the “Festival di Tumba”, there will be countless exciting parties all around the island. Many “jump-ins” (indoor parties) will also take place in preparation for the parades. These traditional parties are especially important for the Carnival groups, as they organize these to sell t-shirts to raise money for their participation and their costumes in the most important parade of the year; the “Gran Marcha” (“The Grand Parade”). Those who purchase a t-shirt also take their part in making these parties even more colorful and exciting, as everyone tries to jazz up their t-shirts in the showiest way possible for the party.
If you’re planning to visit Curaçao in the first quarter of the year, these are the dates that you should keep in mind:
- 1st week of January: Carnival season opening
- 1st week of February: Festival di Tumba
- 1st week of March: the beginning of the Carnival parades