Fodor’s Bahamas, 31st edition

CARNIVAL comes to Christmas in the Bahamas with Junkanoo, a festival going back, says the 31st edition of Fodor’s Bahamas, to the 16th or 17th century, “when Bahamian slaves were given a few days off around Christmas to celebrate with their families. They left the plantations and had elaborate costume parties at which they danced and played home-made instruments.” They wore masks, which “gave them the freedom of anonymity, so they could let loose without inhibition.”

The costumes evolved—today they include glitter, gemstones and feathers—but the beat is still kept with goatskin drums and cowbells (now part of “a hundreds-strong brass band”). As in New Orleans with its krewes, in Nassau groups of as many as 500 or 1,000 spend months preparing their costumes, dance steps and music, competing for prize money and bragging rights.

All is revealed in a series of parades that begin on Boxing Day (26 December), just after midnight, continuing through mid-day. Each Junkanoo group makes two laps of the parade route, and each lap can take several hours. “Head to Bay Street just before dawn,” suggests the guidebook, “and you’ll be sure to score a vacant seat.”

If you want to come at a more civilized hour, “Rawson Street bleachers are the best seats.” Bleacher seats cost $10-$50, and you should speak to your hotel concierge ahead of time to arrange tickets.

For a behind-the-scenes look at Junkanoo visit Nassau’s Educulture Museum and Workshop, where some of each year’s best costumes are on display. Call ahead to arrange your visit: 242/328-3786.