National Festivals and Holidays
The greatest show on earth is our annual Carnival celebrations held forty days before Easter in February or March. It is an explosion of colour, costumery, creativity, music and dance which culminates on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday with the Parade of Bands.
The weeks preceding Carnival are filled with the sounds of the Steel band and Calypso, as well as the infectious music of the countless "fetes" or parties that are held at this time. On Carnival Saturday, the Children's Parade of Bands takes place from 9.00 am. That evening, hundreds of steel pans and pannists, organised into steel bands or steel orchestras for the finals of the fiercely competitive 'Panorama' competition.
The 'Dimanche Gras' competition, where The King and Queen of Carnival and the National Calypso Monarch are crowned, is held at Queen's Park Savannah on Sunday evening. J' Ouvert the official start of Carnival begins at 2.00 am on Monday, the Parade of Bands at 11.00 am and on Tuesday at 9.00 am. Over the entire festival King Carnival reigns supreme. More details:
Phagwa or Holi, the Hindu Festival of Colour has been celebrated in Trinidad and Tobago since the arrival of the "Fatel Razack", the first ship bringing indentured Indian labourers in 1845. This festival celebrates the triumph of good over evil and symbolizes the beginning of the Hindu new year and spring in India. It takes place on the full moon day in the month of February or March. It is a time for religious worship, playing music, chowtal singing (Indian folk-songs) and tassa drumming.
Though no spring season exists in Trinidad, each March the local Hindu community recognises the beginning of spring and the Hindu New Year, as do the Hindus in India. A major hallmark of the festival is the vegetable dye abeer, a fuschia liquid which is sprayed over Phagwa participants. Special singing and dancing competitions are also included in the celebrations.
Hindus and Non-Hindus alike join in the celebrations which begin at the break of dawn. Bonfires are lit to symbolise the destruction of Holika, the evil sister of King Hiranya Kashipu, and neighbours and friends armed with abeer (a coloured powder dissolved in water liquid), visit one another and meet in public places to joyfully spray each other.
As with other festivals, the rich cultural blend is evident in the music which combine African, calypso and East Indian rhythms. Dancing and re-enactments of the legend of Holika are integral to this festival which can be enjoyed in Trinidad in El Socorro, Chaguanas, and San Fernando among other locations. Increased national participation bears further testimony to the cultural melting pot.
"Hosein" or "Hosay" as it usually pronounced in Trinidad, has its origins in a religious ceremony formerly practised only by the Muslim sect known as " Shiites ". However because of certain non Muslim practices which have crept into it, it is no longer considered a religious event but a cultural festival.
This festival is in honour of two brothers Hosein and Hassan who were treacherously murdered in a Persian holy war. It is celebrated in the Muhurram month of the Muslim calendar, ten days after the appearance of the new moon. There is therefore no set month of the Roman calendar when it is held. As the time approaches " tadjahs " are made mosque like in shape, ten to fifteen feet high, marvelous in design and colour, and cleverly constructed of bamboo, multi-coloured paper, tinsel and bits of glass.
On the day of the festival these " tadjahs " are pulled to some appointed place in the presence of thousands of onlookers and cast into the sea or river. The most popular processions are held in Trinidad in the towns of St. James, Curepe, Tunapuna, Couva and Cedros. More details:
Eid Ul Fitr
Eid Ul Fitr, the Muslim religious festival is marked by the new moon of Ramadan which heralds the Muslim New Year. It is celebrated as a thanksgiving to Allah (God) for successful completion of the prayers and fasting required during the Holy Month of Ramadan.
It is a day of subdued rejoicing enjoined by the Holy Prophet Muhammed when all Muslims participate in congregational prayers in the masjids (mosques). Muslims and non Muslims alike visit one another, to exchange gifts and enjoy tasty delicacies. Among them is the traditional dish of Sawine made with milk, raisins, chopped almonds and vermicelli. More details:
Divali is the Hindu religious festival of light which has been celebrated in Trinidad for over one century. For the Hindu community it is a time to celebrate the triumph of good over evil and for re-dedication through prayer and fasting. On Divali day, Hindus perform puja (prayers) and invite friends and families to their homes. They share special vegetarian meals and Indian sweets made with milk, butter and flour.
Around 6 pm, the lighting of deyas (small earthenware pots with wicks and oil), begin. Thousands of flickering deyas create a wonderful scene, illuminating the way for the visit of Lakshmi,the Goddess of Light. Hundreds attend the Divali celebrations held in Trinidad in towns such as St. Augustine and Chaguanas and villages such as Penal in south Trinidad. In more recent times a major centre for the observance of this festival has been developed, Divali Nagar (village). Here there is a showcase of traditional Hindu culture, cuisine and displays of arts and crafts. More details: Divali (Diwali) in Trinidad & Tobago
Christmas in Trinidad and Tobago is a celebration in which almost everyone participates regardless of religious persuasion. Traditionally Christians attend religious service either at midnight or on Christmas morning. Christmas Day is devoted to visiting relatives and friends and exchanging gifts. However the cultural blend of our people make some of our Christmas customs and traditions unique.
Among these are the traditional dishes such as pastelles (corn patties filled with spiced meat), beverages such as ponche de creme (a potent blend of rum, milk, eggs and spices), ginger beer (brewed from the ginger root), and sorrel (fruit juice). Musical traditions are evidenced by the strains of parang, music played on a cuatro (a four stringed instrument) accompanied by a song in Castillan Spanish. Weeks before Christmas, especially in rural areas, paranderos (parang singers) visit the homes of their acquaintances to sing about the Birth of Christ in return for the listeners' hospitality.
Tobago Heritage Festival
This festival, begun in 1987, captures the unique cultural tradition of the island of Tobago and has become to Tobago what Carnival is to Trinidad. It usually lasts for two weeks and is held from mid-July to early August. Throughout the festival, visitors can traverse the quaint, friendly villages to savour traditional culinary delights such as dumplings (boiled dough) and curried crab.
Hundreds enjoy the indigenous folk songs, dance, music, drama and sporting events. In all of them the combined influences of the Amerindian, African, and European cultures are evident. Among the highlights are the "Ole Time Carnival", "Ole Time Wedding", and the more contemporary "Miss Heritage Pageant". At times, other celebrations such as the landing at Plymouth of the 17th century Courlanders and Emancipation Day coincide with this festival. More details:
Steel Band Festival
The Steel band Festival is normally held in Port of Spain, Trinidad during October to November over a three week period. It is a unique opportunity for the visitor to experience the only new musical invention of the 20th century. Steel pan players compete in classical and indigenous traditions for categorised titles.
The competition comprises two categories, the School Steel Bands and the National Steel Bands which occur on alternate years. There are normally three nights of preliminaries, two nights of semi-finals and the final night. The winning steel orchestras are usually awarded a prize trip to a major metropolitan centre to give public performances.
Holidays when offices, banks and most shops closed, are:
- New Year’s Day - 1 January
- Shrove Tuesday and the weekend before - Carnival
- taken by all as an unofficial holiday - as decreed
- Good Friday - as decreed
- Spiritual Baptists Day - 30 March
- Easter Monday - as decreed
- Corpus Christi - as decreed
- Indian Arrival Day - 20 May*
- Labour Day - 19 June
- Emancipation Day - 1 August
- Eid al Fitr - as decreed
- based on the Islamic lunar calendar
- Independence Day - 31 August
- Divali - as decreed
- Christmas Day - 25 December
- Boxing Day - 26 December
- *Whit Monday is no longer an official holiday, it was replaced by Arrival Day, later renamed Indian Arrival Day.
Monday through Friday, most shops and offices are open from 8am until 4 or 5pm. Most supermarkets stay open until 8pm. Saturday noon is closing time for shops in most of Tobago but some stay open later.
All banks open from 8am - 2pm Monday through Thursday and 8am - noon and 3 - 5pm on Friday. They close on Saturday and Sunday.
Many banks have 24/7 ATM's in Scarborough and at Crown Point.