comes to St. Maarten once a year, bursting upon the senses just
after Easter. It begins with the Balloon Jump-Up, the
first of the "Jump-Up" parades that will wind their
way through the streets until April 30, the birthday of Queen
Beatrix of the Netherlands.
The Balloon Jump-Up celebrates the opening of
Carnival Village, an area two blocks from Front Street that houses
more than 100 food booths. Among the dishes no visitor should miss
are conch and dumplings, open-pit barbequed chicken, and johnny
cakes. You may also want to sample the "sea moss," a
drink made of sea weed and brandy that is alleged to be an aphrodisiac.
The "Jump-Up" parades, comprised of
floats, live bands, and brightly costumed dancers, are a top Carnival
attraction, as is the Caribbean Queen Pageant. The largest of the
processions is the Grand Carnival Parade, which features elaborately
dressed Carnival troupes winding along a four-mile route. Between
parades, crowds are entertained by steel drum bands and by comedians
from throughout the Caribbean.
Calypso competitions in particular--are also an integral part of
Carnival festivities. Long a traditional art form of the Caribbean,
calypso tests the improvisational and narrative skills of a solo
performer known as a "Calypsonian." The winner goes up
against the previous year's Calypso King or Queen in a battle for
the new title. There is also a separate junior calypso competition
The day after a new calypso monarch is crowned
is an early one, opening with a hearty 4 am welcome to the new
day in the Jouvert (pronounced "Jou-vey") Morning Jump-Up
Parade, which lasts until sunrise. The grand finale to Carnival
is the Last Lap Jump-Up, lead by King Momo, the straw figure who
reigns over Carnival. The burning of King Momo signals the end
of Carnival--according to local legend, he takes the village sins
with him, leaving the island pure.
As an added bonus, Carnival usually coincides
with a drop in hotel rates for the summer season, so the most exciting
time is also the most economical.