Your Ultimate Guide to 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!

STARTING ON:
December 26, 2020

ENDING ON:
January 1, 2021

Days to start

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What is Junkanoo?

The Bahamas Junkanoo is held in Nassau, Bahamas. Junkanoo is an exciting four-day carnival celebration that showcases Bahamian culture and traditions.

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

When is Junkanoo 2019 – 2020?

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

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.

Uniquely Bahamian

Forget about Trinidad many believe that carnival is better in the Bahamas! Junkanoo Festival is a carnival that rivals any other throughout the Caribbean. The reason it’s so revered is because Junkanoo Bahamas is the ultimate celebration of everything Bahamian.

Junkanoo is the absolute heart and soul of Bahamian culture. In fact Junkanoo is the only part of Bahamian society that is uniquely Bahamian. Junkanoo in the Bahamas is all about enjoying life and embracing your heritage with dancing, music, and joy.

For Bahamian people Junkanoo is more than just a parade. The absolute essence of Junkanoo is about joy and happiness. It’s a representation of the people and their culture, music and food that makes the Bahamas such a special place.

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 revellers. 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 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.

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, colourful 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? Well 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.

Rumour 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 organisations created and organised by members of the community that participate in the parades. Some of the different Junkanoo groups include the Saxons, Roots, One Family and The Valley Boys.

The Junkanoo groups have around 500-1000 members who are divided into three different categories that include musicians, dancers and costumers. 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 co-ordinating 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 organised 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 Carnival Beautiful girls

Junkanoo has been recognised as having one of the most entertaining street parades in the world! Junkanoo Street Parade is traditionally held twice on both Boxing Day and New Years Day. The Parades are held in downtown Nassau on Bay and Shirley streets.

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 colours and sound. Everywhere you look you will see bright colourful costumes. Rhythmic sounds fill the air made by the drums, cowbells or whistles that accompany an array 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 the 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.

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 Costumes

Junkanoo Carnival Man in traditional costume

One of the things that make Junkanoo Festival so spectacular are the Junkanoo Costumes! 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 groups chosen theme.

Junkanoo Costumes DIY – Junkanoo Groups spend months creating carnival costumes out 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 coloured 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. 

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.

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 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.

Where to watch Junkanoo?

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. 

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. To get a quote for a flight click here.

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. 

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.

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.

Check out some accommodation options here. 

For more information about tours, things to do, sightseeing tours, day trips and more click here.

Don’t forget to follow us @_carnivaland

Before you go!

We can’t stress enough the importance of travel insurance! Never travel without coverage! Being protected on your travels gives you an irreplaceable peace of mind. Don’t learn the hard way about the importance of travel insurance. Get a quote through our recommended insurance provider, World Nomads!

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