If you still have that little child inside of you who opens his eyes wide when he sees the colorful parades and dances to the loud traditional and authentic music, let me tell you that all you need is to go to Martinique Carnival!
All carnivals elicit strong emotions and represent unforgettable experiences, however, they are all unique! One of the most famous and attractive carnivals in the world is the French Caribbean carnival in Martinique island.
The Martinique carnival is the best way to enjoy the festivities as well as get a true Caribbean experience. The carnival is a week-long celebration that takes place every year in February, and it’s the perfect opportunity to enjoy the island’s culture and music. There are many different events and parades that take place during the carnival, so you’re sure to find something that interests you. If you’re looking for a vacation that combines culture, music, and relaxation, then the Martinique carnival is definitely the event for you.
Martinique carnival arose from the fusion of European and African cultures. It is enthusiastically celebrated by the Martinique people. There are also bear strong Amerindian influences, in particular the harvest festival, indicating the pagan origins of the carnival, a festival dedicated to fecundity and fertility.
During this carnival, everyone participates and dresses up in highly earthy, eccentric, and folkloric costumes for the day’s theme: Multicolor dressing on Shrove Sunday (Dimanche Gras), cross-dressing on Shrove Monday (Lundi Gras), red devils on Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras), and a black and white theme on Ash Wednesday (Mercredi des Cendres). Then, Martinique island, which is usually lush, becomes even more colorful during the festive.
What is different about the Martinique carnival?
This carnival is unlike any other in the world. The Martinique carnival has some unique features that you must be aware of in order to avoid missing out on any event. Of course, it’s a happy time, with parades following one another through the confetti and the endless dances.
The celebration begins a little later than in the other French Caribbean islands, usually after Epiphany day, in mid-February. Parades of street orchestras and disguised walking groups animate Fort de France and the towns of the island every weekend, beginning with the start of the carnival season, but on a much smaller scale than during the Shrove days. Elections for queens are held in communes, and carnival shows and exhibitions are held on the occasion.
Another distinction is that it does not end on Mardi Gras, as the Catholic calendar usually does. It will last until the following day, Ash Wednesday. One more day to commemorate this momentous occasion! The imposition of ashes, which was supposed to take place immediately after, does not take place on Wednesday, but on the following Friday.
Finally, there is no Mid-Lent celebration. As a result, the carnival period in Martinique is longer, lasting four days, and is slightly different from other places around the world.
While the most spectacular celebrations and parades take place in Fort de France, many other activities take place throughout the island. For example, the carnival of Saint-Esprit, which hosts many events each year.
How has the carnival begun?
The origins of the Carnival can be traced back to the Middle Ages. Under the fear of the creation of a new less restrictive religion, the Catholic Church creates the Mardi Gras, a rite of Spring celebration, in order to suppress pagan ideas and traditions.
When the settlers arrived in the New World in the 17th century, they brought their customs with them. They celebrated the carnival by receiving each other at home and hosting masked receptions for their guests. It was a time for revelry, orgy, and disguise. Mardi Gras marks the start of Lent, a 40-day period of prayer and fasting preceding Easter.
Slaves were originally barred from taking part in the carnival festivities. However, they developed a taste for imitating their masters and welcomed each other in their neighborhood by creating their own carnival (songs, masks, and colors). A carnival which is full of beliefs and musical instruments like drums, hill flutes, cha-cha, ti-bois… They were not permitted to parade outside the property of their masters until the abolition of slavery.
That’s how the Martinique Carnival was born. It’s a combination of African and European cultures.
When is Carnival in Martinique this year?
This year, 2022, the carnival will take place from February 27th to March 2nd.
The schedule of Martinique carnival in 2022
The Martinique carnival is an event that should not be missed if you are on Martinique island during the month of February!
During the four days of Carnival in Martinique, take advantage of the opportunity to attend all of the parades, events, and festivities with a strong historical and colonial past: each day has its own theme and uniqueness. One thing is certain: you will never feel bored!
1. Dimanche Gras (Shrove Sunday) – Sunday, February 27, 2022
The official release of the King of the party, his Majesty Vaval. It’s a giant mannequin (bwa-bwa) presented on a float and paraded around the city. It symbolizes a ceremony of honor to the gods of the Underworld. Each year, Vaval is created according to a theme linked to a political or social fact. The parades are colorful!
Dress Code: Multicolor.
2. Lundi Gras (Shrove Monday) – Monday, February 28, 2022
Burlesque wedding day. Parade of oddly matched couples: Make way for all the fantasies!!
Dress Code: Extravagance – Eccentricity – Humor – Ceremony
3. Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday) – Tuesday, March 1, 2022
Release of the Red Devils, emblematic figures of the Carnival of Martinique
Dress Code: Red and Black
4. Ash Wednesday (Mercredi des Cendres) – Wednesday, March 2, 2022
Last day of jubilation for the revelers. Funeral and cremation of His Majesty Vaval. His disappearance marks the end of the festivities and the beginning of Lent.
Dress Code: Black and White
The characters of the carnival
If you want to get the most out of the Martinique Carnival and to understand the different events, you should get to know the main characters.
1. Sa Majesté Vaval (his Majesty Vaval): it is the King of Carnival will lead the parade bus and the parade. It is either a character, a true story, a political fact, or about local national, or international news. It appears on the Shrove Sunday parade head after a confection made in complete secrecy by various associations of the city. It will be celebrated and honored throughout the Shrovetide until Ash Wednesday night when he is burned in a square near the Bay of Fort de France, the Malecon.
2. The Diable rouge (Red Devil): The mask was inspired by harvest masks from Africa, and was made from various materials and recycled objects such as mirrors. It has bovine horns and only shows the eyes. It is honored on Shrove Tuesday, also known as Red Devils Day.
3. The Guiablesse: it is the grieving widow of King Vaval. It appears only on Ash Wednesday dressed in Black and White, came crying Vaval to be cremated on Wednesday evening at the end of Carnival.
4. The Coupeur de Canne (cane cutter): it is a character from the Carnival of 1849, the year after the abolition of slavery in the French colonies. Former slaves disguised themselves as their former slaves held to mock their former cane cutter job.
5. The Touloulous: It wears a mask reminiscent of the Venice Carnival and represents the dominant woman, superior in her hierarchy with men.
6. Hommes d’argile de la Poterie des Trois-Ilets (Clay Men): they are the Trois-Ilets Pottery workers, one of Martinique’s oldest and still active companies.
7. Karolyn zyé Kokli: It’s a woman who carries her alcoholic husband on her back every night on his shoulders.
8. Maryan Lapo fig: According to legend, a circus representation in Saint-Pierre would have seen his bear flee. So, a woman dressed as a bear fills the void left by the missing bear with a costume made of dried banana leaves, to avoid disappointing the audience. Maryan Lapo fig impersonates the bear and, a puppeteer and a musician accompany her.
Are you planning to spend the carnival on Martinique island?
This year, there will be plenty of activities and events to keep you entertained. The best way to enjoy the carnival is to take part in the parades, which take place in different parts of the island on different days. There are also a number of street parties, where you can enjoy local food and music. If you want to experience the Martinique carnival in all its glory, be sure to book your accommodation well in advance, as Martinique resorts and hotels tend to fill up quickly during this time.
If it is the carnival of the city of “Saint-Esprit”, you will benefit from the calm and small-group parties. If, on the other hand, you attend the Fort-de-France Carnival, you will have the perfect opportunity to discover this magnificent city.
Where to stay during the Martinique carnival?
The island is a French territory located in the Caribbean Sea, and it’s known for its gorgeous beaches and resorts. If you’re looking to enjoy the Martinique Carnival in style, consider staying at one of the island’s resorts. Many Martinique resorts offer special packages and activities tailored specifically for Carnival. You can also enjoy the parade route from the comfort of a luxury hotel balcony or from the deck of a cruise ship.
Enjoy it and have fun!
The Martinique carnival is an experience you will remember for the rest of your life. Keep the tradition alive by attending or, who knows, participating… everyone is welcome!
Enjoy the culture, the city, the food, and the company of wonderful people. Remember, if you dare to dress up, your costumes must be appropriate for the occasion! If you’re a fan of carnivals, let us know in the comment what is your dream carnival destination!