Each year, on September 21, Belize commemorates gaining its independence from Great Britain. The holiday is celebrated throughout the month, with events that include parades, parties, concerts, feasts, children’s events, fireworks, and of course, the main event, Belize’s Carnival.

Unfortunately, many of this year’s events have been canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, now is a great time to learn how Belizean people celebrate their Independence Day.

The month-long festivities typically begin on September 10, the Battle of St. George’s Caye Day. This is considered Belize’s National Day and honors an important battle victory for the country’s Baymen. On this day, Belizeans wear their country’s colors of blue, white, and red. Radio stations begin playing patriotic songs and people hold gatherings and parties.

Photo credit: Mario Tama

According to Belize Adventure, the Belize Expo is also held every September. One of the country’s largest events, attendees are able to enjoy activities ranging from singing and dancing to shopping and enjoying delicious food with local merchants and food vendors.

J’ouvert marks the official kick off of Belize’s Carnival. The event is a large street party held in the early morning hours of Independence Day, before dawn. In fact, the celebration’s name is derived from the French phrase “jour ouvert,” which means daybreak or dawn. During J’ouvert, participants paint themselves with colored mud and dance throughout the streets to Punta, Soca, and Calypso music, which is commonly played live by a band.

Around nine in the morning, J’ouvert festivities come to an end and many return to their homes to rest and prepare for the main attraction: Carnival. This is one of two Carnivals held yearly in Belize, and not to be confused with the one that occurs earlier in the year, prior to Lent.

Photo credit: Mario Tama

According to Belize.com, historian Lawrence Vernon attributes Belize’s Carnival roots to a group of parents who, in 1975, decided to liven up the festivities by dressing their children in costumes and allowing them to parade in the streets.

Years later, the tradition lives on, however, today’s Carnival consists of many elaborate, colorful, and often risqué costumes worn by beautiful dancing revelers. To maintain order, authorities have separated Carnival into two segments. There is one for children and modestly dressed underage individuals, and a separate celebration where adults are free to dress as they please.

Groups and dance troupes come to Carnival to show off their dance moves. Each group has a name and they are often sponsored by companies and organizations. Beautifully decorated floats can be seen coming down the roads with skilled dancers atop. It’s one live cultural party filled with vibrant colors, unique costumes, and jovial music to keep everyone moving.

Photo credit: Mario Tama

Related: Rio Carnival Is Returning In 2022, Everything You Need To Know