San Pedro Carnival in Belize

San Pedro Carnival in Belize
In Belize, there are two Carnival seasons. In most parts of the country Carnival is celebrated during September but in some areas the festivities are held at the traditional time preceding the liturgical season of Lent. San Pedro is one of Belize’s few cities that observe Carnival in February. The San Pedro Carnival is held over several days prior to Ash Wednesday.

San Pedro is a town located on the largest island of Belize, Ambergris Caye. It is the largest settlement and only town on the island. One of the primary industries in San Pedro is tourism. The San Pedro Carnival (Fiesta de Carnaval) is a major tourist attraction and one of the most anticipated events on the island.

The Carnival of San Pedro begins about a week before the first day of Lent (Ash Wednesday). The festivities include parades, masquerading, dancing, and traditional music. Numerous comparsas flood the streets of the town, spreading joy and cheer. A comparsa is a group of singers and dancers followed by a carriage (carrosa) with musicians. Belizean comparsas have developed African religious processions where groups of devotees follow a given deity or saint.

One of the most popular comparsas is composed of well-known and influential men in the community. They cross-dress or dress up in outlandish costumes and dance to compete with other comparsas for prizes and money. For the past new years, the male comparsa has taken home the main prize of the Carnival.

Popular activities at the San Pedro Carnival include painting. Revelers paint each other with water-based paint, raw eggs, or flour. The goal is to paint as many people as you can. Although the main aim of body painting is to have fun, sometimes things might get pretty wild. By the end of the night, most revelers are covered in paint head to toe. Most people are respectful towards tourists and don’t paint them without permission but there’s still the risk of getting caught in the crossfire.

The town council organizes an official block party at San Pedro’s Central Park. It includes dance performances, concerts by local singers, and other events and activities for the locals and tourists.

The Carnival ends on Ash Wednesday with a traditional Catholic mess and the funeral of Don Juan Carnaval, a character representing the Carnival spirit. The burning of the effigy signals the beginning of Lent.

San Pedro Carnival

Photo: Tony Rath




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