If you’re planning on traveling to the Caribbean this coming year, it may be in your best interest to schedule the trip around the 24th and 25th of February. The annual Trinidad and Tobago Carnival will be in full swing those two dates, and it’s a spectacle for the senses that you simply cannot miss! One of the best known Caribbean carnivals, the Trinidad Carnival is a two-day festival that takes place the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, a moveable feast where the islanders dress up in extravagant costumes and the island is in full-on celebration mode. Here’s everything you need to know about Trinidad Carnival.

Trinidad Carnival features extravagant costumes and colorful attires. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

History

The festival’s history in Trinidad traces its roots back to the 18th century. Originally, the French who settled on the Caribbean islands held a carnival to celebrate the season of Lent, which consisted of a lavish masquerade ball, concerts, and hunting parties. With the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation, the freed Africans took up the festivities and brought Canboulay – the precursor to the Trinidad Carnival, which involved calypso music and integrated drums, dancing, and chanting.

It’s held on the Monday & Tuesday Before Ash Wednesday 

At first the festivities were held starting on Sunday before Ash Wednesday, but after 1943, the street carnivals were restricted to Monday and Tuesday in respect to the day of Sabbath.

The Carnival Begins with J’Ouvert 

The carnival begins very early at 2am on Monday with the J’Ouvert (from French translates to day opened). A parade of party-goers march through the streets in satirical costumes dousing themselves in oil, mud and powder while dancing calypso music.

Colorful Costumes Fill the Streets on Tuesday

The real party begins on Tuesday. If you’re familiar with New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, this is the Caribbean version. Hundreds of spectators gather around the streets to see the Mas Bands parade down in ornate, colorful, feathered and sequined costumes. There’s lively music, dancing, and spectacular performances throughout the day.

Feathers and sequins are pretty common elements of Trinidad Carnival costumes. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Mas Bands Competition 

At the end of the festival, there’s a competition for the Trinidad Carnival costumes between the Mas Bands – the masquerade groups – who parade throughout the festival. Trinidad carnival outfits usually vary, though some characters like Jab Jab (the French Patois word for devil) are common.

If you’re visiting Trinidad & Tobago during the festivities, stay at the Hilton Trinidad Hotel & Conference Centre, just minutes away from all the action! There’s no better cultural experience to familiarize you with what it truly means to be Trinidadian than this one.

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