Just hearing the word Carnival is enough to make everyone’s eyes sparkle and want to dance to the rhythm of the lively music. Every year, the island of St. Martin vibrates to the rhythm of the two carnivals. The first takes place in February on the French side, and the second is in April on the Dutch side. The festivities go on for weeks, between the seafront and the shopping streets.
These events showcase the wealth and diversity of the island of St. Martin. The carnivals are an opportunity to see the locals of St. Martin take over the streets and public places, to the sound of Caribbean music, dressed in flamboyant costumes, with a great atmosphere and with the respect of everyone. The feathers and glitter fly through the air and blend into a whirlwind of confetti and streamers, from Marigot to Philipsburg.
Elections are held to award the best costume, the most outstanding make-up and the most beautiful Miss Carnival. There’s also a mini-miss competition so that the children can also play their part and win awards at this celebration for all generations.
A place for culture and identity
The Carnival creates a place for different cultures and identities to come together, through expression and emotion. This is a place for celebration and entertainment, where there are no barriers between people. This event for all generations allows people of all backgrounds, all origins and from all cultures to get involved. That’s how this magical event comes together, and the carnival of St. Martin performs the miracle of fraternity. When the spirit of celebration takes over the island, everyone comes together and feels like part of a big family, filled with joy and desire.
The heart of St. Martin
The processions and parades in costume get the heart of St. Martin beating, even stronger than usual. Every year, the locals of St. Martin eagerly await the moment when the festivities can begin. These precious moments are made successful thanks to months of hard work in the run-up to the event. Everyone gets involved in building and decorating the costumes or floats, depending on their skills and availabilities. The performers rehearse their songs, music and choreographies, so that they know them inside-out on the day. The locals of St. Martin let their imaginations run wild, and create a wonderful world of color.
The exceptional show attracts spectators from all over the world, who want to come and experience Caribbean culture for themselves. Each traveler takes home with him a small slice of St. Martin’s soul and treasures it, like a good luck charm.
Parades on St. Martin
St. Martin is a melting pot of cultures and the carnival is open to all communities. On the French side of the island, it is seen as a legacy that teaches the population and amazes visitors. It is the ultimate celebration of origins. Authenticity is the keyword. Passionate costume-makers design the costumes every year depending on the theme chosen by the organizing committee. This type of meticulous work requires months and months of hard work.
Professional make-up artists work hard to create staggering temporary works of art, to match the costumes. For months, they create and design the models that will be chosen to add to the jaw-dropping decorations. The artistic make-up is the absolute final touch to ensure a successful parade. Musicians and singers also compose their artworks, specifically for the carnival season, with a groovy Caribbean rhythm. They have to be ready and be able to come up with something new every year. They are responsible for the opening and closing shows for the event. They have to make sure they create a great atmosphere, to drum up a frenzy!
Celebrations in St. Maarten
On the Dutch side of the island, the carnival is also a moment of celebration and joy. The artists and craftspeople of this side of the island also work hard to bring to life the universal magic that this event is renowned for. The floats and parades along the seafront and shopping streets are decorated with costumes, feathers, glitter and remarkable make-up. The music sets the rhythm, combining tradition with soca, as well as a DJ on the decks for an electro atmosphere, that is more commercial than the music heard on the French side.
On the French side, the carnival takes place throughout the month of February and until the beginning of March. The dates vary slightly each year, by just a few days, depending on how the weekends fall.
On the Dutch side, the carnival celebrations begin mid-April until the beginning of May, and can also vary by a few days from one year to the next.
In St. Martin or St. Maarten, almost all the celebrations are held in the capitals. Marigot and Philipsburg are decorated in feathers and glitter for the whole month of the carnival celebrations.. The processions of parades and floats can be seen on the seafront and along two or three of the main shopping streets, with spectators lining the streets. The stages for the concerts are set up not far from these places, in the town center.
The Carnival of St. Martin is organized in partnership with the Tourist Office, who is one of the biggest partners for the event. Most parades, concerts and entertainment are free-of-charge for the public. This is a popular street event that is particularly enjoyed by passing tourists.
In St. Maarten, the street entertainment is free-of-charge, but you need to buy a ticket for some of the shows, organized privately outside of the Dutch Ministry of Tourism.