The Easter break is a great time to visit the Caribbean for a relaxing week or two on the beach, falling as it does in the middle of the dry season, and it’s also an opportunity to learn about the unique culture and history of this enchanting cluster of islands. Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, is the dominant faith throughout the Caribbean, so Easter is a very important time of year in the religious calendar, and naturally the islands have each developed their own unique Easter traditions...
As you would expect, Good Friday is a solemn occasion, and it’s a day when you won’t find many locals on the beach. This isn’t just because everyone is at church: tradition holds that it’s bad luck to step in the ocean on the day of the Crucifixion, and some people will even tell you that you’ll turn into a fish if you go for a paddle on Good Friday! We’re yet to hear of this happening to any of our clients, so you’re probably safe, and that’s just as well… As in the UK, Good Friday is a day without red meat, so fish is certain to be on the menu. Indeed fish is an integral culinary ingredient throughout the Easter period; in Jamaica they serve up escoveitched snapper, fried and then marinated with hot peppers, while further afield, in Bermuda, the locals eat delicious codfish cakes, traditionally served with bananas.
Chocolate eggs don’t tend to feature in the Caribbean – perhaps because they melt too easily in the tropical heat! – but there is another, rather more unusual egg-based tradition, whereby an egg white is placed in a container of water on Maundy Thurday, and the coagulated egg white forms a pattern which is used to predict the future on Good Friday. Rather more appealing are Easter buns, eaten on many of the islands and similar to our own Hot Cross Buns, spiced with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, filled with currants, raisins and dry fruit, and normally eaten with a thick slice of Cheddar cheese.
As well as the more traditional religious elements, there are various other festivals and events that take place at Easter depending on which part of the Caribbean you are in. In the Dominican Republic, as you would expect in a country with such a strong Spanish Catholic heritage, Semana Santa (Holy Week) is a big deal, and events culminate in a huge procession through the capital, Santo Domingo, on Easter Sunday. The procession starts after morning mass at the sixteenth century Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, the first cathedral ever to be built in the Americas. Carnival-style celebrations can also be found on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands, where the lively four-day Easter Festival includes a Calypso Monarch competition and music from traditional Virgin Island ‘scratch’ bands.
Further south, in Trinidad, an effigy of Judas Iscariot called a Bobolee is traditionally constructed from old rags at Easter, and left outside to be beaten by local residents as punishment for his betrayal of Jesus, with cries of ‘Beat de Bobolee!’ ringing out as the hapless figure is ripped apart. More recently, this tradition has taken on more of a secular, topical character, with effigies of unpopular politicians or other public figures also turned into Bobolees, much like Guy Fawkes night in the UK. If you are travelling to Trinidad over Easter, it’s worth extending your stay and hopping over to sister island Tobago for the annual Tobago Goat Races, which are held on the following Tuesday in the village of Buccoo.
There are also more sedate ways to spend Easter in the Caribbean. Kite flying is very common at this time of year on islands such as Barbados and Jamaica, with competitions often held around the Easter weekend. The origins of this tradition are unclear, though some have suggested it represents Christ’s ascension to Heaven. Sailing is also a popular Easter pastime, with the annual Easter Regatta taking place off the tiny island of Bequia in the Grenadines. Or, if you’d rather just spend a week relaxing on a beach at a luxurious resort, then of course you are spoilt for choice - why not speak to our friendly team of Caribbean experts about booking your Easter break next year with Caribtours.