The New Year traditions of this island are not for the faint of heart. In fact, first-timers might even think Aruba has suddenly come under siege once the “pagaras”- seemingly endless strings of firecrackers- begin going off until the smoke and noise of the traditional custom completely blankets downtown streets. It’s beyond loud! And that begins days before the stroke of midnight heralds the New Year!
So what’s behind all the firecracker frenzy? Well, Aruba’s “big bang theory” is that all the noise will start the year right by cleansing away any lingering bad energy, and simply scaring the daylights out of any evil spirits until they are run right out of town! It certainly scares small children and dogs! Not to mention setting off multiple car alarms in the process… so it might just work!
The island-wide explosions are also a signal of the last working days of the year, and many businesses announce how prosperous the year has been by the length of their pagara string. Though the government has lit some doozies, probably the most memorable record goes to the Aruba Marriott and Stellaris Casino that set off a string of 12 million firecrackers to celebrate its success in 2012! Mind-boggling!
But on New Year’s Eve, it’s all about special dinners and parties as Aruba gears up into full celebration mode with most resorts hosting their own shindigs and locals gathering with family and friends for special feasts in anticipation of the colorful night sky explosions.Then, at the stroke of midnight, the entire island becomes ablaze all along the coast with fireworks. And the biggest display is hosted by the Aruba Renaissance, their show creates an “ooh” and “ahh” inspired extravaganza over the marina in downtown Oranjestad each year. It’s a spectacular sight, and you’re well advised to get up somewhere high to view all the different displays at once!
Historically, then it would be time for “Dande”- a uniquely Aruban musical tradition. The name comes from the Papiamento word that means to carouse or revel and have a good time. Traditionally, this was a door-to-door sing-along like North American carolers at Christmas, but instead the singers wish you a good New Year. It would begin at midnight, and continue into the wee hours. But in the past few decades, the tradition of Dande began winding down. Then some cultural groups- who were afraid it would die out completely- started a structured annual Dande Festival to ensure future generations would know and continue the tradition. Today, it’s one of the biggest musical events on the island, but now Dande takes place the last week of the year before New Year’s Eve.
Though some of Aruba’s New Year’s traditions might indeed be noisy, most of them are very beautiful and musical. But what else would you expect from “The Happy Island”? It’s something you should witness at least once in your life time.
Bon Aña- Happy New Year from Aruba!