Holidays and Festivals in Belize
Belize is a small country, with a population that has undergone tremendous upheaval every century since the Spanish arrived. But the people here still have plenty to celebrate. A mixture of Mayan, Catholic, and Caribbean culture makes for a busy calendar of holidays and festivals. You will notice a few consistent traditions – beauty pageants, soccer games, and folk dances are central to many Belizean celebrations.
Baron Bliss Day Parade and Annual Boat Regatta – March 9
An Englishman named Baron Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss had a soft spot for Belize’s Caribbean Coast. He left the Belizean government a large amount of money in his will. Belize honors him every year with a festival of fishing and sailing.
Easter–Lent, Carnival, and Semana Santa
Belize is no different from other Latin American countries – Easter is a huge deal. Easter weekend is an extremely festive and colorful celebration. Benque Viejo del Carmen is a particularly devout city, and holds a weeklong party from Palm Sunday to Good Friday.
Ambergris Caye and Belize City are both good destinations for Carnival parades. While the parades are not as large as those in Brazil, the exuberance and penchant for giant, feathery costumes are the same.
St. George’s Caye Day – September 10
On September 10, 1798, the battle at St. George’s Caye finally drove the Spanish away from Belize. Spain wanted to add Belize to its collection of Central American colonies. Settlers from Great Britain had settled on the coast in order to harvest the trees for lumber. The Spanish objected to the British presence on the coast, and attempted to drive them away repeatedly. At the Battle of St. George’s Caye, British settlers ensured that Belize would never be a Spanish colony. As a result, Belize City celebrates this anniversary with music, cooking, and drinking.
Belize Independence Day – September 21
September is a busy time of year for Belizeans, especially Belizeans who like to party. The span of time between St. George’s Caye Day and Independence Day is known as Belize’s most festive time of year. Belizeans mark their independence day with noisy parades and raucous concerts.
After Belize gained its independence from Great Britain in 1981, the country maintained friendly relations with Great Britain and became a member of the British Commonwealth. To this day, the Queen is on the Belizean currency.
Belize City Carnival – Mid-September
Wild floats crowd the streets during Belize City’s Carnival. This festival is the largest demonstration of Caribbean spirit in Belize. Men and women don elaborate costumes – some resemble large birds, and will remind you of Brazilian Carnival costumes. But the music here is distinctly Belizean, played with gusto at seaside concerts that last long into the night.
November 19 – Garífuna Settlement Day
This day commemorates the Garifuna’s arrival in Belize in 1823. Supposedly they migrated to Belize after getting shipwrecked on St. Vincent Island, arriving in dugout canoes called dorys. This festival is celebrated in Punta Gorda, Belize City, Dangriga, and Hopkins.
The Garífuna’s musical tradition includes lots of fast-paced drumming. Dancing accompanies the music, as does traditional food and drink.
Boxing Day (Day after Christmas)
The day after Christmas is called Boxing Day, a British holiday that is also widely celebrated in the Caribbean. On Boxing Day, slaves in British colonies were allowed a day to celebrate amongst themselves.
In Belize (and other Caribbean countries) this holiday means a Junkanu parade. Participants wear masks with pink skin and bright red lips. The masks and choreography were developed as a way to mock the European slave owners. Historians aren’t sure where the term “Junkanu” comes from – all we know is that the celebrations originated as a way to briefly experience respite from a life of oppression and toil.
Local Pride - Saints and the Maya
Over the summer, towns across Belize celebrate their patron saints. These often celebrate local culture as much as they do the religious significance of the saint.
In Toledo, the area of Belize with the highest concentration of Mayans, two festivals in August bring groups of modern Maya together.
El Día de San Pedro – June
San Pedro is the capital of the tropical Ambergris Caye. “San Pedro” translates to Saint Peter in English. Saint Peter is the patron saint of fishing, a traditional occupation on the island. During El Día de San Pedro, local schools have dance recitals in honor of the town’s fishermen.
Benque Fiesta – July
In the middle of July, Benque Viejo del Carmen holds a 3-day long festival in honor of the community’s patron saint, Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The festivities include rides and activities for children, parades, music, and food.
Costa Maya Festival – August
Costa Maya Festival is the largest Mayan festival. Mayans from Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico gather in San Pedro, on Ambergris Caye, for a weekend in early August for the Costa Maya Festival. This is a time when the descendants of Mayan villagers were torn apart by the Caste Wars and Mexican-American War to gather together, and re-enact ceremonies that might otherwise be forgotten.
Traditional dances, foods, and songs take center stage – until it’s time for the beauty pageant. Competitors from each participating country vie for the title of La Reina de La Costa Maya.
Deer Dance Festival – August
The annual Deer Dance Festival takes place in the village of San Antonio, in the southern Toledo District. Local Q’eqchi Maya don traditional costumes and perform a dance re-enacting a deer hunt. Traditional instruments, including Mayan harps, accompany the dance.
Belizean towns also gather to celebrate local culinary specialties – chocolate, seafood, and cashews have each earned themselves a spot on the Belizean festival calendar.
Crooked Tree Cashew Festival – May
Cashew trees grow all over Crooked Tree, an island village located about an hour north of Belize City, in the middle of a lagoon. During the second weekend in May, local women harvest the nuts. It is an intensive process to crack the cashews. They do it by hand, wearing gloves to protect themselves from the noxious shells.
This is a chance to see cashews like you never have before – transformed into wine, jellies, cakes, candies, and ice cream.
Mostly people of Kriol descent live in Crooked Tree. The festival showcases their folk music, dances, and crafts.
Belize Chocolate Festival – May
The Belize Chocolate Festival attracts a growing number of attendees interested in high-end, single origin chocolate. There are four major chocolate producers in Belize, and each brings an impressive selection of confections to the event. This festival is held every year in Toledo.
Caye Caulker Lobster Fest – June
Lobster used to be extremely abundant in Belize, but due to overfishing it now has a limited season. In late June, Caye Caulker locals kick off the season with a celebratory lobster boil. Belize loves its pageants, and every year a new “Miss Lobster” is selected.