Chances are, you haven’t heard of Peppercorn Day. A holiday in Bermuda, Peppercorn Day may be the oddest holiday in the Caribbean. Its history dates to 1797 when a group of Freemasons began renting the Old State House in St. George, for the sum of one peppercorn. In 1816, the holiday tradition began. Every year on the Wednesday closest to April 23, amidst pomp and circumstance, a horse-drawn carriage brings the governor to collect the peppercorn.
While Peppercorn Day is exclusive to Bermuda, many Caribbean islands share similar holidays. For instance, while the specifics differ, many islands celebrate their heritage with national holidays. In Dominica, late October ushers in Creole Week. Part of Creole Week is Heritage Day, held in a different village every year and paying homage to that village’s unique aspects and important citizens. Island-wide, the biggest celebration of the week is Creole Day. Everyone dresses up in traditional Creole fashion and enjoys Creole style parades, music, and food.
Similarly, Jamaica’s Maroon Day (January 6) pays tribute to the Maroons, freed slaves who fled to the South coast of Jamaica to start their lives anew. Their ancestors still live there and host the biggest celebration of the holiday, the Accompong Maroon Festival. Drawing visitors from all over the globe, this huge affair had an attendance of 16,000 people in 2005. The feast includes traditional dancing, singing, and ceremonies.
Then there’s Indian Arrival Day (May 30) in Trinidad and Tobago. Although it was only made official in the 1990s, the island’s sizable Indian population has celebrated the holiday for many years. It commemorates the arrival of indentured servants from India.
Many Caribbean countries celebrate their independence from conquering nations, such as Spain, the Netherlands, or France. Holidays honoring national heroes who fought for independence are common, like Errol Barrow Day in Barbados. But the islands also retain holidays from the conquerors, like Bastille Day, Queen’s Day, and the Prince of Wales’ Birthday. Emancipation and slavery abolition holidays are also national holidays on many islands.
Perhaps the largest number of holidays in the Caribbean are of religious origin. Days venerating patron saints can be found throughout the islands, but nowhere to the extent of Puerto Rico. Even Puerto Rico’s cities have their own patron saints with attendant holidays. However, the most important is St. John’s Day, celebrating the island’s patron saint and namesake of its capital city, San Juan. Beach parties end with people walking backward into the ocean and falling into the water to honor the tradition of baptism by St. John.
Christmas in the Caribbean may be more enthusiastic than anywhere else in the world. The twelve days of Christmas are still celebrated on many islands, culminating in Epiphany on January 6. On Guadeloupe, Epiphany marks the beginning of Carnival season, which continues until Lent. The carnival reaches its peak on Shrove Tuesday, when businesses close for five days so all can participate in the parades.
Even the weather has a place on the holiday calendar. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, the fourth Monday in July is Hurricane Supplication Day. Marking the beginning of their hurricane season, it’s a low-key day for people to go to church to pray that hurricanes pass them by, or at least spare lives and buildings. If all goes well, Hurricane Thanksgiving Day follows on the third Monday of October.
Holiday celebrations contribute greatly to the vibrant culture in the Caribbean. If you’re planning a trip there, consider going when you can take part in one. There’s no better way to truly experience island culture.