By Juan Sempere
If you happen to visit Jamaica during the early days of August, you’re in for a treat: Independence Day kicks off a series of national festivities on the 6th, and the whole island goes into full-on celebration mode.
Here’s what you should know in order to partake of this fun-filled week, especially if you take in the celebrations from Moon Palace Jamaica in Ocho Rios, which will celebrate in true Jamaican style with food, fun, and festivities of its own.
Yup, we said “week.” While other countries might limit their major national holidays to a single day – which may get moved around to make a long weekend – Jamaicans know where it’s at come Independence Day: They take up a full week and pack it up with enough things to get everyone busy, from street fairs and parades to cultural events and pageants.
While the largest celebrations take place around Kingston and Montego Bay, nearly every corner of the island does their own scaled-down version in order to keep a lively atmosphere, including popular spots like Ocho Rios and Moon Palace Jamaica.
Try not to gain too much weight. Whenever people get together to party, they’re sure to work up an appetite once all the dancing and singing get going. If you’re around the north coast you may even get an early festive start by joining this year’s Ocho Rios Seafood Festival on August 5th, featuring all sorts of delicacies prepared with the Caribbean’s bountiful harvest.
Feast on some saltfish fritters, garlic lobster with plantains or curried shrimp, and cap off your night with an outdoor concert. Just pace yourself, will you? There’s plenty more to do.
Dance to the beat of the streets. Music and dance can be found all over the place on any given day in Jamaica, but during this time of the year they kick it up a notch. A tradition that dates back to 1966 is the Popular Song Competition, where Jamaican artists try to outdo each other with some infectious beats and memorable lyrics that portray national pride at its finest. Past winners include legendary acts like Toots & The Maytals, Desmond Dekker, and Eric Donaldson.
Don’t rain on this parade. Independence from the British Empire isn’t the only thing worth celebrating. The reason the festivities go on for so long is due to the fact that emancipation from slavery is also celebrated, so you can expect all sorts of cultural references to those harsh days.
On the one hand you’re sure to find lively floats and musicians filling the air with songs of joy, but keep in mind there are also plenty of religious rites and commemorations that pay homage to those who had to struggle to find freedom. Keep your eyes open for exhibitions, lectures, and other supporting events if you’re looking for a more enlightening experience.
Keep it colorful. Locals love to show their national pride during Independence Day, and so should you. Remember that the Jamaican flag’s colors correspond to specific national symbols: black is for the strength and creativity of the people, gold refers to natural wealth and the joy of sunlight, and green is related to hope and agricultural resources. There, now you can hit the dance hall and party like you mean it!