The Carnival season is the perfect time to visit the island of Martinique. Kreol takes a look at the many things to see and do, as well as some of the traditions underlying the Carnival celebration.

For centuries there has been a desire to have fun and celebrate life in the days leading up to the austerity of the Lenten season. The Carnival celebration was borne out of this tradition, and today the season is enjoyed by locals and visitors around the world. Whether those revellers fill the streets of New Orleans or the dance halls of Rio, the desire to have a great time is universal.

Martinique Carnival: 4 days of celebration

If you are looking for a unique way to celebrate the Carnival season this year, consider starting a tradition of your own with a trip to Martinique. Normal life on the island of Martinique nearly comes to a stop during the four day celebration, providing visitors with a unique glimpse into this centuries-old tradition.

Preparations for the four days of Carnival in Martinique get underway early, often starting in early January. All that extra time gives the participants a chance to make sure that everything is just right, from the elaborate floats to the fancy costumes.

The fun gets underway on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, with the election of the parade King and Queen and the first of the many parades and parties to come. The first Sunday of Carnival in Martinique is also known as Big Sunday, and it is a time for elaborate parades and celebrations. Local groups work all year on the floats for Carnival, and Big Sunday is the first chance they get to strut their stuff and compete for prizes.

Themed days: Comical wedding day, Red Devil day and Black & White day

Each day of the Martinique Carnival season has its own unique theme, with the parades and other festivities for that day catering to that theme. The theme for Monday is a comical wedding, so you can expect to see lots of amusing brides and grooms roaming the streets and riding on the back of parade floats.

During the festivities on Tuesday, tourists can expect to see plenty of demonic characters. Tuesday is Red Devil Day, with men and women dressing up in red costumes and interacting with parade watchers along the route.

The festivities come to a close on Ash Wednesday, the final day of Carnival in Martinique. On that day everyone dresses in black and white to celebrate the end of Carnival and the beginning of the holy season of Lent.

Visitors planning to be in Martinique during Carnival can safely enjoy all of the festivities from a variety of venues and vantage points. Large bleachers are set up along the parade routes, making it easy for visitors to catch all the action. Revellers can also watch the parades from the many balconies along the parade route, giving them a bird’s eye view of all the fun.

Burning the effigy of the King of Carnival

No matter where they choose to watch the rest of the festivities, visitors should make sure they are on hand for the final celebration on Wednesday. During the winding down of Carnival, an effigy known as Vaval, or the King of the Carnival, is brought out on to the stage. Vaval is accompanied by his alter ego, Bwa-Bwa.

As the celebration comes to a close, a funeral pyre is built for the soon to be ex-King of Carnival. The funeral pyre is set alight with the arrival of dusk, setting Vaval ablaze in a final fiery celebration. When the flames have finally died down, the revellers perform an elaborate burial ceremony for the king, topped off with chants of “Vaval, pas quitte nous”, which translates to “Carnival don’t leave us.”

The burning of the Vaval effigy and the burial of the king marks the traditional end of Carnival, but the festivities are resurrected, albeit briefly, a few weeks later. This revival takes place three weeks after the end of Carnival and lasts for only 24 hours, during which there are parades, marching bands, dining, dancing and drinking. This celebration is known as Mi-Careme, or mid-Lent, and it is celebrated in towns and villages all over the island of Martinique.

Street carnival, A 4 day event with parades, singing, drums and festivities in Fort de France, Martinique.

Street carnival, A 4 day event with parades, singing, drums and festivities in Fort de France, Martinique.
photo: T photography

Martinique: Carnival but much much more

Whether you stay for the mid-Lent festivities or just the Carnival celebration, you are sure to have a great time on Martinique. The Carnival season on Martinique is known for its friendly people, its great hospitality and of course the beautiful parade floats and elaborate costumes. Many first-time visitors to Martinique find themselves returning to the island year after year to join in on the fun of Carnival.