Christmas in the Bahamas
I could not find much information about Christmas in the Bahamas other than a casual mention that, like the USA, the Bahamians also give and receive gifts and Christmas cards. However, let the clock strike 2am on December 26th and all kinds of celebrating happens in this Island country, with the official beginning of Junkanoo.
Junkanoo is a national festival held only in the Bahamas. It begins with a lavish (and loud) parade in the early morning of Boxing Day (December 26th) and end with a final parade in the early morning of New Years Day.
There is some speculation as to where the word Junkanoo came from. The most popular belief is that it is a form of “John Canoe,” the name of an African tribal chief who demanded he be allowed the right to celebrate with his people even after he was brought to the West Indies as a slave. Others believe the name is from the French “gens inconnus,” which means “the unknown people” and refers to people wearing masks and thus being unknown.
Historically, around Christmas, Bahamian slaves were given a few days off and were allowed to leave the plantations to spend time with their families and to celebrate the holiday. Generally they would leave after work Christmas Day and would be joyful as they went at the prospect of their yearly 3 day freedom. Hence the music and dancing in the night. It is believed that the original Junkanoo dancers would wear the masks and costumes as a disguise, so as not to endanger their jobs/reputations at the plantations.
After slavery was abolished, Junkanoo almost disappeared, but a few of the islanders kept the tradition going until today. Junkanoo is an important part of the Christmas season, and the elaborate costumes and practiced dance and rhythmic music of the different groups competing in the parades is quite a big deal. Some have compared it to the Mardi Gras of New Orleans or the Carnival of Brazil, but in the Islands it is their unique and joyous celebration of freedom.
How much more they would have to celebrate when they find freedom from sin in the Christ of Christmas. This is our prayer for the Bahamas and every other country around the world.
- More information about Junkanoo
- Watch a video (2.30 min) of a Junkanoo group playing the hymn And Can It Be
- Free Printable Map of the Bahamas
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