Nobody is quite certain about the origins of the celebration of Junkanoo, but there is no doubt about the fact that Bahamians see in the New Year in style. As Nassau’s Bay Street lights up each year in anticipation of the coming party, around the island of New Providence in the hidden Junkanoo ‘shacks’ the competition is fierce to come up with the most outrageously colourful costumes. Then, on the evening of January 1st each year, over 50,000 spectators are expected to line the street to watch the incredible show as the goatskin drums beat out their rhythm and the crowd judge for themselves which of the Junkanoo Groups has managed to steal the limelight. These days, you can bet that either the ‘Valley Boys’, the ‘Saxon Superstars’, ‘Roots’ or ‘One Family’ will be carrying off the grand prize – but which will it be next year? Revellers on the sidelines cavort with the same abandon, singing and dancing along with the group performers.
Come the end of January the pace has slowed only a little, and a colourful sailing regatta sets off from the coast of Nassau's Montagu Bay. Between 30 and 40 ships, all built in the area, compete in the All For One Regatta every year. Soon afterwards, and also in Montagu Bay, the Valentine's Day Sailing Regatta is a championship race interspersed with plenty of fun on land.
In March, the annual Bahamas Billfish Season opens with its inaugural event, the Bacardi Rum Billfish Tournament. Held in Port Lucaya, and considered one of the ten best fishing tournaments in the world, you are invited to spend six full days of fishing and nights of entertainment, fine dining and rum cocktail making competitions, which are set to coincide with the Spring Break season. As the catch is being weighed in, Count Basie Square and the Port Lucaya Marketplace fill with music and festivities as the island celebrates St. Patrick’s Day.
An opportunity to mingle with the local crowds who gather at the Island Roots Heritage Festival arrives in May at New Plymouth, on the island of Abaco. Here, for the past few years, a cosmopolitan multitude enjoy the boutiques displaying paintings and art works by Bahamian artists showing different cultural backgrounds from fine art paintings to beautifully designed jewellery, and straw work to hand carved wood work. The food stands at the festival offer local fare such as conch chowder and fritters, fried fish, scrumptious desserts and of course delicious daiquiris and pina coladas to be enjoyed while everyone is entertained by local performers such as Rake and Scrape bands, with the most beautiful sunset as a back drop to their dancing.
If you missed it the first time around, the whole Junkanoo event kicks off again in the summer, as June and July’s calendar fills up with a series of events, this time on Eleuthera’s exclusive Harbour Island.
The oldest event in the Bahamas is Fox Hill Day, the day that the community of Fox Hill village, Nassau, a former slave village who heard about their freedom a week after everyone else on the island, celebrate their Emancipation which was granted in 1834. This forms the grand finale to the week in August of Emancipation Day Celebrations which are actually yet another excuse to stage a Junkanoo festival. The Emancipation festival luncheon is legendary, and alongside the wonderful calypso bands and limbo dancers, adds a traditional flavour to this vibrant event.
Rounding off the year’s calendar of events, the Bahamas International Film Festival in early December has the odd famous screen legend mingling with film buffs throughout a series of glittering gala events, screenings of what’s new in cinema, and awards ceremonies. Many items on the programme, such as the gala events and Youth Film Workshop, are based in Atlantis, Paradise Island and the British Colonial Hilton Nassau, some of the island’s top resorts and hotels.