Celebrating Easter in the Caribbean

Every island has its own unique way of celebrating Easter in the Caribbean. Some are influenced by Spanish Catholic traditions. Others bear the tell-tale signs of Portuguese, Dutch and Indian cultural sway. And all mix Christian beliefs, with pagan folklore and sun-filled frivolity.

Celebrating Easter in the Caribbean

Easter celebrations in Barbados © Caribbean Tourism Organisation

As the second-biggest religious celebration in the annual calendar, Easter is a big deal across the Caribbean – where a church, chapel or cathedral denotes every village, town and city. Vivid bursts of colour typify each and every celebration of Easter in the Caribbean, from the imaginative pepper-scattered fish dishes that grace every table in St Lucia on Good Friday and the elaborate tropical floral displays found everywhere in Tobago to Easter lambs that gambol over Barbados’s wildflower pastures. After the revelry of Carnival that signifies the beginning of the Lent, Good Friday is a much more solemn affair. Families spend time together, attend Mass and refrain from eating meat: a symbolic act of abstinence in recognition of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. Local islanders also stay away from the beach on Good Friday due a Caribbean-wide superstition that not to do so would bring bad luck. Take a dip at your peril, they warn, as it is sure to see you develop a rainbow of scales and turn into a fish.

Celebrating Easter in the Caribbean

Easter music on the beach © Caribbean Tourism Organisation

By Easter Sunday, events take on a more jubilant air, as Christian believers celebrate the Resurrection. With Easter weekend falling in the dry season in the Caribbean, the weather is always hot and breezy, so after church everyone heads outside to picnic and fly a kite. In the Caribbean, kite flying is synonymous with Easter Sunday, the day that islanders in Grenada, St Lucia, Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados and Antigua unveil their homespun creations to cheering crowds. By lunchtime the skies are filled with billowing brightly coloured kites that range from the beautiful to the bizarre. Families gather to gossip on the beach, with the traditional breaking of the egg at precisely midday on Good Friday a popular topic of conversation. The shape of the egg white in a water-filled glass is said to determine your destiny, and everyone enjoys speculating on what the next year might hold in terms of love, marriage and wealth.

Celebrating Easter in the Caribbean

Shrimp and seafood for Easter in Jamaica © Caribbean Tourism Organisation

Other Easter superstitions include cutting a knife into the bark of a native tree to release a crimson sap – a purging ritual in memory of the blood of Jesus. Some folk trap snakes over Easter in order to try to see their feet – though nobody seems to know why! Yet the single shared Easter tradition is food – and plenty of it. Easter dishes include stuffed shrimp and marinated fish with buttered vegetables in Grenada and seasoned lobster with rice and curried mango in St Lucia while in Jamaica local bakers struggle to keep up with the national demand for Bun and Cheese at Easter-time: a sweet, spicy, raisin filled bun cooked with the local “Tastee Cheese” that is sold packaged in decorative boxes. In Trinidad and Tobago, entire communities spend weeks planning what they are going to wear to church on Good Friday and Easter Sunday – everyone attends in immaculate attire with the women topping off their outfits with grand hats. In Grenada, traditionalists still prefer to dress in black-and-white while in Antigua the Easter holiday is characterised by colourful street parades, sailing and boat racing regattas.

Celebrating Easter in the Caribbean

St Johns Cathedral, Antigua © Antigua Tourist Board

Holidaymakers hoping to celebrate Easter in the Caribbean are warmly welcomed to these family-friendly events – so make an Easter bonnet, fly a kite, go to Sunday Mass, eat well-spiced succulent fish, buy buns from the bakery and crack an egg into a glass of water on Good Friday”¦ but perhaps just leave the snake charming to the professionals.

Virgin Atlantic operates flights to the Caribbean from London Gatwick, making it easy to book your Easter break in the sun.

How would you celebrate Easter in the Caribbean? Have you experienced any of these Easter traditions? Let us know in the comments section below.

About Sarah Woods

Award-winning travel writer, author & broadcaster Sarah Woods has lived, worked and travelled in The Caribbean since 1995. She has visited resort towns, villages and lesser-known islands where she has learned to cook run-down, sampled bush rum, traded coconuts, studied traditional medicine, climbed volcanoes and ridden horses in the sea. Sarah is currently working on a travel documentary about the history of Caribbean cruises.
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