The islands of the Bahamas represent an amalgam of several cultures, with distinct colonial and West African elements being the most prominent. But the people of the Bahamas are unique and possess a proud culture filled with their own take on cuisine, music and the arts. Various festivals throughout the year celebrate their heritage, the most famous being the national pastime, Junkanoo.

Traditionally, Junkanoo takes place in the early morning hours of Boxing Day (December 26) and New Year’s Day. While the lively festival’s origins are not known, many believe it is named after John Canoe, a West African chief who declared his right to celebrate with his people despite being enslaved.

What began as a joyful respite for slaves continues today as an animated neighborhood endeavor. Though homemade instruments have been replaced by more modern versions, and costumes have become more elaborate and intricate over time, the communal spirit of the carnival remains.

Paraders fill the streets, beating drums and blowing horns and whistles. Community teams compete for prizes -- and bragging rights -- in categories like best music, best costumes and best dancing. Food vendors and local craftsmen join the diversions, peddling their goods alongside the main event.

This grand party brings Bahamians together and gives visitors a fun way to experience the culture of these islands. If you can’t make it for the official parties in December and January, scaled-down versions take place during the summer, including games, food and fashion shows.

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