🇧🇸 Junkanoo Bahamas

Junkanoo Carnival is held every Boxing Day & New Year’s Day. Junkanoo is the heart and soul of Bahamian culture & the most anticipated event of the year! Here is everything you need to know about Junkanoo!

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    When is Junkanoo?

    Junkanoo is a four-day celebration that always runs between Boxing Day, 26th December and New Year’s Day 1st January.

    When is Junkanoo 2023? The 2023 Junkanoo Carnival takes place between Monday 26 December 2023 and Sunday 1 January, 2024.

    Where to experience Junkanoo?

    Junkanoo celebrations today occur only on the Islands of The Bahamas. The street parades are held in downtown Nassau on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. However smaller celebrations occur on other islands including the Abacos, the Exumas, Harbour Island, and Grand Bahama.

    What is Junkanoo?

    Junkanoo is an exciting four-day carnival celebration that occurs around the Christmas/New Year period and showcases Bahamian culture and traditions with music, costumes and street parades. For the Bahamian people Junkanoo is more than just a parade, it is a representation of what makes the Bahamas such a special place. Junkanoo is so revered by the locals because it is the ultimate celebration of everything Bahamian, it is the heart and soul of Bahamian culture. The essence of Junkanoo is joy and happiness.  Junkanoo is all about enjoying life and embracing your heritage through food, dance, music, family, friends and joy.

    Junkanoo attracts visitors from all over the world who descend on the Bahamas to have a great time and get immersed in the Bahamian Culture.

    How is Junkanoo celebrated?

    Junkanoo Carnival Crowd parade

    Originally Junkanoo began as a small street celebration but today into something that can rival any Carnival or Mardi Gras celebration around the world!

    Junkanoo has two street parades held annually on Boxing Day and New Years Day. So on these days you can expect large street celebrations full of music, dancing, costumes and spirited revelers. Expect an amazing display of local arts, crafts and delicious local cuisine for sale.

    There are also some other carnival events including JunkaMania, Music Masters, Midnight Rush, and Road Fever. Junk Mania is a 3-night music festival that showcases Junkanoo Music, and other Junkanoo art forms like drumming and dance.

    What is the Difference Between Bahamas Carnival & Junkanoo?

    Junkanoo and Bahamas Carnival are two widely popular carnivals that are both held in the Bahamas. Both of them are beloved by the locals and attract tourists from all over. While they are both similar carnival celebrations that involve parades, costumes, competition, music and of course partying, there are some big differences between them. One of the main differences is that Bahamas Carnival is held in April/early May and Junkanoo always takes place between the Christmas and New Year period.

    Junkanoo is also a more traditional carnival with more traditional music, dances and costumes. Junkanoo is about showing off the island’s rich culture and history. Where the Bahamas Carnival is more like the typical carnival celebration you will find throughout the Caribbean with a heavy emphasis on soca music. Both celebrations are amazing and worth attending!

    What is the History of Junkanoo

    What are the origins of Junkanoo? Junkanoo is a party that has been occurring in The Bahamas for well over 500 years! The history of Junkanoo dates back to the Bahamas colonial days, when there were still slaves working on plantations.

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    During the Christmas season slaves were given three days off and would spend those days throwing large celebrations. The celebrations were filled with dance, music, costumes, colorful masks and see participants travel from house to house on stilts.

    Others believed that The Bahamas Junkanoo started from the French ‘gens inconnus,’ which translates to ‘masked people’.

    The Legend of John Canoe

    Junkanoo Carnival Man jumping open legs

    Who is John Canoe? There is a local folk legend that believes that The Bahamas Junkanoo celebrations actually began because of a West African Prince named John Canoe who is revered for outwitting the English to become a local hero.

    Rumor has it that John Canoe demanded the right along with the rights for his people to be able to celebrate even after they were captured and brought to the West Indies as a slave.

    Humble Beginnings of Junkanoo

    Historically Junkanoo was a more spontaneous celebration that consisted of simple costumes and hand-made instruments. In the early parades participants work masks made from flour paste. By the 1920’s costumes were made from paper, cloth and facial painting or natural material like sea sponges.

    By the 1940s anything and everything was used to make Junkanoo costumes material, crepe paper, newspaper and wires. The original Junkanoo musical instruments were home-made. created from conch shells, horns, and poinciana pods.

    Junkanoo Groups

    What are Junkanoo groups? Junkanoo Groups are organizations created and organized by members of the community that participate in the parades. Junkanoo is an intense competition between seven groups on the island. The different Junkanoo groups include the Saxons, Roots, One Family and The Valley Boys, the Prodigal Sons and the Music Makers.

    The Junkanoo groups have around 500-1000 members who are divided into three different categories that include musicians, dancers and costumed performers. Each of these three different categories is used as criteria for judging.

    Each Junkanoo group competes for cash prizes and bragging rights that comes with winning the title of Best Junkanoo Group. Junkanoo Groups spend an entire year preparing and coordinating the parade with their chosen themes.

    Themes, musical compositions, costume designs and choreographed dance moves are kept top secret all year because of how fierce the competition is in Junkanoo.

    Scrap Groups

    The Junkanoo Parade also features smaller groups that are called Scrap Groups who aren’t as well organized but represent broad sections of the community.

    Anyone who wants is allowed to participate in Junkanoo so long as they follow a clear set of rules established by the National Junkanoo Association. Even tourists can join in the Junkanoo Parade.

    Junkanoo Boxing Day & New Year’s Day Street Parade

    Junkanoo has been recognized as having one of the most entertaining street parades in the world! Junkanoo has two street parades that are held on Boxing Day and New Years Day. The Parades are held in downtown Nassau on Bay and Shirley streets.

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    In fact, the Junkanoo parade that takes place on Boxing Day is actually completely different to the Junkanoo parade that takes place on New Year’s Day! Each of the different Junkanoo Groups will come up with an entirely separate theme for each parade. That means that each parade will have different costumes, different dances and different music. Both parades are always equally spectacular, and it cannot be said which parade is considered the better parade to attend.

    Junkanoo Street Parades contain different groups in each of the parades so you won’t feel like you’re watching the same parade again. The Parades actually begin in the early hours of the morning before the sun comes up and it gets too hot, so from around 2am-10am.

    Junkanoo Parades are a visual delight full of colors and sound. Everywhere you look you will see bright colorful costumes. Rhythmic sounds fill the air made by the drums, cowbells or whistles that accompany an array of brass instruments.

    The Junkanoo Groups have spent months perfecting their dance routines and perform with vast amounts of energy and enthusiasm. The musicians bang out pop songs on cowbells and the goat skin drums. The elaborate costumes are on full display wowing the audience.

    Both sides of the street are full with large crowds of spectators and die-hard fans that you can barely move. People climb atop trees and street lights and fill balconies to get a good view. The atmosphere is electric, everyone is dancing and everyone is having a good time.

    All this is being done under the intense scrutiny of the judges who mark the groups on who has the best music, costume and overall best group. At the end of the procession is when the judges announce the winners and hand out cash prizes and bragging rights for the next year.

    Where to Watch the Junkanoo Street Parade

    The great thing about the Junkanoo Street Parade is that it is free to watch! You can just find a spot on the street along the parade route and enjoy the show. However, if you want to avoid the crowds and get great views of the parade, you can pay to sit in one of the grandstands that are set up along the way. Or you can watch from one of the few private balconies along the parade route.

    Grandstand Seating at Junkanoo

    There are many grandstands that are set up along the parade route in Bay Street. You can purchase tickets to sit in one of these which not only get you a great view over the parade but means that you can avoid the crowds. You can also leave the grandstands and re-enter when you would like.

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    Rawson Square also has a giant grandstand which is a great option. This is where the judges are located, so all the groups save their best dances and performances for when they pass the judges and the energy is heightened. The seats in this area are more expensive than in the other areas.

    Private Balconies on Bay Street

    One of the best ways to view Junkanoo is from one of the many balconies that overlook Bay Street. Several restaurants, bars and hotels that line the parade route will host private parties where you can view the parade from their balconies. This is a more expensive option than the bleachers, and some of the venues will sell Junkanoo packages that also include drinks and food. Others just sell access to their balconies and you will have to purchase your own food. This is a great option if you want to avoid the crowds, get great views over the parades and have quick access to a bathroom.

    Junkanoo at Street Level

    If you don’t want to spend money then you can always join the crowds and find a spot along the parade route. It is free to watch the parades along Bay and Shirley Streets, Bethel Avenue, Blue Hill Road and Poinciana Drive. However, you will be fighting with thousands of others for a good view so we highly recommend arriving early. Rawson Square is a great place to go watch the parades because that is where the judges are set up so everyone puts on their best show when walking past. They also hand out awards afterwards.

    Bay Street is the most popular option to watch the parades. If you want to get a good view you will have to get there early as Bay Street can be packed with 4 or 5 lines of people in front of you, so it will be hard to see unless you are tall. However, it is a lot of fun watching on the street, because the crowd energy is high. It can be difficult finding access to a bathroom, there are public port-o-potties but it is extremely crowded.

    Another good option is to watch along Shirley Street that runs parallel to Bay Street. The parade also runs down here and it is a lot less crowded than Bay Street, but the performances are not as energetic because they save their energy for the Bay Street Crowds and grandstands. But it is a good option if you want a more relaxing Junkanoo experience and you can still admire the beautiful costumes.

    Where to stay for Junkanoo Bahamas?

    There are hundreds of options for accommodations. From luxurious resorts and hotels, to guesthouses there is something for all budgets. Most tourists stay in the Paradise Island area of Nassau, and just take a taxi to the carnival parade.

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    Most of the action takes place in downtown Nassau and there are plenty of hotels and guest houses in this area if you want to be close to the action.

    Beach Hotels close to the parade route include:

    Check out Booking.com for some great accommodation options close to Junkanoo Carnival.

    Book your Hotel and Flight for the Atlanta Junkanoo Bahamas

    Booking.com

    Junkanoo Costumes

    Junkanoo Carnival Man in traditional costume

    One of the things that make Junkanoo Festival so spectacular are the Junkanoo Costumes! There is no limit to what a Junkanoo costume can be, or can be made of. Junkanoo costuming is an incredibly creative and tedious process that demands thousands of man hours. The Junkanoo costume designers are required to have tremendous skill and creativity. The Junkanoo costume ideas always stem from the chosen Junkanoo group’s chosen theme.

    Junkanoo Costumes DIY – Junkanoo Groups spend months creating carnival costumes out of not much more than Styrofoam, cardboard and crepe paper. This is why Junkanoo costumes are so unique and different to typical carnival costumes because

    The Junkanoo Costume designers create intricate patterns using the selected theme as inspiration onto cardboard. This is then used as the base for the Junkanoo costumes. Once the structure is complete, hundreds of brilliantly colored layers of fringed crepe paper are pasted on.

    This fringe effect is what gives the Junkanoo costumes the Bahamas so much texture and dimension! Truly you will spend your time at the Junkanoo Festival wandering around admiring the Junkanoo Costumes. 

    Cultural expression

    Cultural expression is highly revered in Junkanoo and the chosen Junkanoo themes are always incredibly creative depictions of fantasy and reality. Often you will see visual representations of The Bahamas past and present, or satirical or political themes.

    Themes, musical compositions, costume designs and choreographed dance moves are kept top secret all year because of how fierce this competition is in Junkanoo. 

    Junkanoo Bahamas Music

    The unique Junkanoo music is equally as lively as the costumes are beautiful. The music makes everyone want to get up and dance. Junkanoo music was heavily influenced by West African drum rhythms, the blues, and other Caribbean musical sounds.

    Today most of the original home-made instruments have been replaced by modern musical instruments with most Junkanoo Bahamas groups featuring a brass band and brass instruments to create the melody.

    Pulsating music is produced from the goat-skin drums. However, you will still see some original home-made musical instruments such as the conch shell, horns, cowbells and poinciana pods.

    Junkanoo Bahamas New Year’s Day

    Before the Junkanoo New Year’s Day Parade kicks off, take to the streets and watch all the firework celebrations occurring across the islands. Immediately following the fireworks all the Junkanoo groups start setting up for their parade.

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    Most of the locals are in church so you can see behind the scenes and feel the frenzy and excitement as the groups prepare. When church finishes thousands start to fill up the streets for the start of the next parade.

    Junior Junkanoo Festival

    Junior Junkanoo is all about getting the next generation excited about Junkanoo. The kids get their very own chance to join groups and perform in a children’s parade. The children’s parade is full of color and very cute to watch.

    Junkanoo Summer Festival

    Junkanoo has become so popular that they now celebrate it twice a year! Junkanoo is also held again in the middle of Summer, every Saturday of July, to allow more people to experience this cultural phenomenon. July is when lots of tourist’s flock to the Bahamas to enjoy their summer holidays. In addition to the parades they also have live entertainment, competitions and food and drink vendors set up.

    Things to do in the Bahamas

    The Bahamas is the ideal destination for a memorable vacation, especially for those who enjoy spending time outside in the warm weather, relaxing in a tropical location. There is so much to do here like visit the infamous Atlantis Resort, where you can splash around and enjoy the waterslides. The Island also offers amazing Scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming with stingrays and/or sharks, deep-sea fishing excursions, beautiful beaches, parasailing, horseback riding, sailing, jet skiing and more. There are a few museums where you can go to enjoy the beautiful culture and history.

    Some fun activities to do in the Bahamas:

    Check out Viator’s Top Tours in the Bahamas

    Junkanoo Festival Expo

    Junkanoo Carnival Dancing with confetti

    If you were impressed by the costumes in the parade then check out the Junkanoo Expo. It is a museum dedicated to Junkanoo. It showcases some of the best costumes from the previous parades. Looking up-close lets you appreciate just how beautiful and intricate these costumes are.

    Junkanoo Festival Tickets

    The best way to watch the parade is to buy a ticket for one of the many grandstands that align the parade route. Tickets can be purchased from the official website bahamasjunkanoocarnival.com.

    How to get to Junkanoo Bahamas?

    The best way to get to the Bahamas is to fly. The airport is connected to many international airports. You can also arrive by boat from another island or the USA. Once you are on the island it is very easy to take a taxi around.

    Carnivaland recommends tours, events and accommodation based on our extensive experience and knowledge of them. We may earn affiliate commission from affiliate links in this article. Read more about our policy.

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