September is celebration season in Belize and Placencia pulls out all the stops when it comes to patriotic pride. The peninsula decorates its streets, homes, businesses, and golf carts with flags, pennants, and all things of the national colors of red, white, and blue. Parades, dances, and sports competitions clutter the calendar for the entire month, but the biggest bash takes place on September 21st, Belize’s Independence Day. Celebrations are country-wide of course, but this is how Placencia specifically parties for Independence.
An extra early start
We really begin celebrating Independence Day the night before; so abundant is our enthusiasm that it can not be contained to simply a single day of celebration. On the evening of the 20th, we kick off the holiday with a Flag Raising Ceremony and Fireworks display at the municipal dock and then dance under the stars until the wee hours of the morning. The official beach bash goes until 2 a.m. but a handful of hardy partygoers will stay up a few hours more and roll directly in to Jouvert.
Jouvert is a tradition we’ve adopted from our Caribbean cousin, Trinidad, where the practice is the unofficial start of Carnival. Jouvert is a French Creole term that translates to “break day” and, as you may have guessed, the custom is practiced at dawn. In Placencia, carousers will start to assemble before the sun even begins to lighten the night sky. As the day begins to break, the marchers make their move.
By around 5am, the village is awakened by the sounds of Soca music, horns, and laughter. Up and down the village’s one main road, the Jouvert parade exuberantly bounces along, announcing the start of Independence Day and hinting at the rabid revelry that the day’s Carnival will bring. Wake up with the roosters and join in on Jouvert if you dare. Participants cheerfully dance, holler, and douse one another with paint or chocolate syrup and sometimes raw eggs. It is a messy, loud, joyful custom that typically ends with a daybreak dip in the sea.
Taking to the Street
The highlight of Independence Day is Placencia’s Carnival Street Parade. Troupes of flamboyantly costumed dancers make the 1-mile march from the airstrip to the Placencia Point Peir where an epic beach party commences and goes until the last dance-devotees drop. Some of the Carnival troupes are well-structured with clear themes and choreography while other groups are a bit more haphazard (and well lubricated if you know what I mean) but they are all equally energetic and industrious in their celebrating. Music blaring, drinks flowing, hips shaking- the crowd’s energy is palpable! The parade tirelessly crawls through the village in a riot of glitter, feathers, and gyrating bodies until everyone makes it to the beach for… what else? More partying, of course!
Placencians are relentless revelers on Independence Day and often the Carnival’s after party can last as long as the parade itself. Food vendors fuel the crowds with plenty of hearty Belizean favorites, and ice-cold beverages refresh roisterers so they can continue dancing. For a village that is typically quite quiet and laid back, we sure know how to party! So come for Carnival in Placencia this Independence Day. Prepare for a marathon of merriment – and don’t say I didn’t warn you!