Jump-Up! Carnival is Coming!

Now running into its 48th year, St. Maarten Carnival just keeps getting bigger and better. And this year, it will begin with even more pre-carnival events like the new Causeway Jump Up which began in 2014 as a precursor to get the island into carnival mode. The festivities start on March 18th 2017, through to the traditional burning of King Momo on May 3rd, 2017. Now that’s a lot of celebrating!

Carnival Terms & Tips

Though veteran visitors typically know how to best enjoy the annual celebrations, first-timers might need a hand in both understanding some terms and traditions, and also some advice on what to expect. So let’s start with the terminology.

Some Carnival expressions are self explanatory like “Jump-Ups”. They are as you would expect, a lot of people jumping up in unison. However, you might not know that when you’re shuffling along in a rhythmic fashion you are actually “chipping”. And “Road March Competitions” have nothing to do with walking, they are actually the battles of the local bands vying to be crowned the musical winners of the Carnival that year, and the leaders of the most important road marches.

“Mas” refers to the overall celebration. This term comes from Trinidad, one of the original birthplaces of Caribbean style carnival. The French brought big masquerade balls to the island as part of their Catholic tradition of having a “grande fete” before Lent. Of course, the slaves were not invited to those gala affairs, so they created their own masquerade parties. “Mas” comes from the word masquerade.

Then there’s “Jouvert Morning” which actually begins before dawn, usually around 4am, so as to greet the sunrise while the crowd winds its way down the route. Don’t expect the extravagant costumes you see during the official parades. Jouvert is messy! In fact, wear clothes you can part with, as you’re sure to get sprayed with colored powder and water as part of it. And a brand new event introduced last year on St. Maarten called “Bacchanal Sunday” is another messy event. It’s nicknamed “Wet Fete”, so prepare to get soaked with water at that one, too!

And then there’s the burning of “King Momo”.

Now one might think that this king must have been a real bad dude in the past to warrant burning an effigy of his likeness. But he was actually never a “king”. He was a god! His legend goes all the way back to ancient Greece when “Momus” was kicked out of Olympus for his excesses. He didn’t really care apparently, as he simply joined the humans in their wild parties, especially the Romans during their Saturnalia. All classes where invited to participate in this bacchanalia style festival, and Roman nobility would choose a commoner to represent “Momus” during it. They would also encourage him to overindulge in everything because later he was to be sacrificed to the gods! These days Momo continues to represent the permission to go absolutely wild. A local is chosen to play him during Carnival, and his presence and importance is paramount to the celebrations. But thankfully, it’s only his straw effigy sacrificed by fire to signify the end of the celebrations. And to make sure he goes out with a bang, fireworks are often added to his pyre as well!

Participating in the carnival is not for the faint of heart. Though you’re welcome to simply watch the Grand Parade go by - to really appreciate the spirit, you should get right into the thick of it. But prepare properly.

Be sure to wear comfortable light clothes and closed-toe shoes- people ‘jumping up’ can land on your flip-flopped feet! And bring refillable water bottles to prevent dehydration. A hat, sunscreen, bug spray, band-aids and even earplugs should be in your backpack, and of course, don’t forget your camera! Also bring some cash, especially when you attend Carnival Village events. The food and drink kiosks are impossible to resist, and they don’t take credit cards!

For lots more on St. Maarten Carnival visit: http://www.sxm-carnival.com.

This will be the last blog before the New Year; keep an eye out for our new 2017 edition of St. Maarten Nights magazine on island soon.

And Happy Holidays from the Nights Publications Team!