Tuesday, October 9, 2012


In Belize, if a holiday falls on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, the following Monday is observed as a bank/public holiday. If the holiday falls on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, then the preceding Monday is a bank/public holiday.

New Year’s Day. January 1. New Year’s is celebrated in much of the same way as other countries. Clubs and bars are open late, and many people attend private parties. Many ethnic groups may also do their own parties, dressing up in traditional dress.  There are also a lot of migratory birds that pass through during this time, so bird watching is often a popular thing to do as well.

Baron Bliss Day (or National Heroes & Benefactor’s Day). March 9. Baron Bliss is an Englishman who sailed his yacht first to Trinidad where he got food poisoning. He then traveled to Belize in an attempt to recover from his illness. He actually stayed on his yacht the entire time he was there, but the Belizeans who lived nearby taught him about Belize and brought him food and supplies. He fell in love with the country and its people through their kindnesses towards him. He eventually did succumb to the food poisoning, but not before bequeathing $2 million to the nation. It went to build libraries, health clinics, museums, markets, and upgrading water supplies. Every year there is a boat regatta held on this day in several different towns and cities.

Good Friday. Varies. Church services are held in the mornings, followed by processions around 3pm, which is thought to be the time that Jesus died on the cross. Processions are usually held through the streets carrying a large replica of the cross and other sacred objects with significance to this holiday. There are some folklore traditions that say that if you swim on 3pm on Good Friday, you’ll turn into a fish; or that if you cook an egg that was laid on Good Friday, you can see the image of Jesus in the yolk; or that if you chop a coconut tree, it might bleed the blood of Christ. (I sincerely hope no one has actually tried it to see if it’s true.)

Holy Saturday. Varies. Holy Saturday is reserved for the annual Cross Country Classic Bicycle Race. It starts in Belize City, goes out to the west around the towns of San Ignacio and Santa Elena and then returns to Belize City.

Easter. Varies. Like most other countries that celebrate Easter, Belizeans start out their day with church services in the morning and then spend the rest of the afternoon with friends and family, many heading to the beaches. The Easter Bunny and looking for eggs have increasingly become popular among Belizeans.

Easter Monday. Varies. There are still activities going on to fill the day: more bicycle races, horse races (something you’ll find wherever the British set foot), good food and drinks, and lots of live music.

Labour Day. May 1. A holiday in honor of the workers of the world. The Prime Minister (or the Minister of Labor) will give an address in the morning, and the rest of the day is followed by picnics with family and friends and sporting events.

Sovereign’s Day / Commonwealth Day. May 24. Commonwealth Day is a celebration that is held in all of the British and former British colonies (commonwealths). There is a multi-faith service held, and the Queen delivers an address that is broadcast throughout the world.

Saint George’s Caye Day (or National Day). September 10. This is a day to commemorate the Battle of Saint George’s Caye. Basically this was one of the many battles between the British and the Spanish. The Baymen (British and Scotsmen in Belize) had already established the logging industry for mahogany there when the Spanish surprised the people at Saint George’s Caye by destroying their town and taking 140 prisoners. There were several attacks throughout many years, but the Belizeans prevailed, and the Treaty of Versailles in 1783 allowed the Baymen to continue with their logging activities but under certain boundaries. There are ceremonies, parades, as well as get-togethers and parties. There are also a lot of concerts and live music and cultural arts festivals around this time in many of the cities.

Independence Day. September 21. The previous holiday and this one somewhat merge into one large holiday season. Many people hang flags and decorate everything in red, white, and blue. Belizean music is played – including soca and punta music – throughout this time. Different cities have their own parades and festivities that are held at various times. Many participate in music contests, dance contests, and/or pageants and watched by many. (It’s also my daughter’s birthday who thought it was pretty cool that there’s a holiday on her birthday.)

Pan American Day (or Columbus Day). October 12. This is to commemorate Christopher Columbus’ landing in the western hemisphere. (It just happens to be this week.) Many school children will read about the stories surrounding Christopher Columbus. Different countries call the day by different names but essentially the reasons are the same. There are some who criticize the holiday because of the fact that Columbus and his crew set up for the slave trade and wiped out thousands of Native Americans with smallpox (oh, yeah, THAT.).

Garifuna Settlement Day. November 19. The Garifuna peoples are those who are mixed African and Caribbean. This marks the day when the Garifuna were first transported to Belize in 1832. They were originally on the island of St. Vincent and had rebelled against the British. For this they were banished to the island of Roatán. They left Honduras to escape a civil war and landed in Dangriga (Belize), which is where many of the largest festivities for this holiday take place. There is a lot of food, music, dancing and parades that are held for this celebration. (My son was also happy to know his birthday also had a holiday on the same day.)

Christmas. December 25. Many of the traditions are a combination of Spanish traditions, British, and Maya traditions. The season begins with statues of Mary and Joseph parades through the streets to the music of marimbas, torches, and fireworks. A Maya tradition known as the Maya Deer Dance is performed in the village of Santa Cruz, in full regalia of traditional costume and foods. The city of Dangriga has famous balls where couples dance many of the great ballroom dances introduced from the British. Many people attend a midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Gift giving and elaborate meals are enjoyed by almost everyone on Christmas Day (although some open gifts the night before). In some cities, like Dangriga, the afternoon is reserved for what’s called Wanaragua or Charikanari, both of which are somewhat related to and inspired from Junkanoo (as in the same that we talked about from The Bahamas, although there are several variances in spellings and pronunciations), both involving dancing in elaborate costumes.

Boxing Day. December 26. The traditions of singing from house to house extend to Boxing Day with
Asederahatian (meaning “one who serenades”). Gifts are exchanged with those who are less fortunate, and many give to charity around this time as well. For the sports lover, there is an annual horse race and bicycle race that also takes place. And I’m sure that there are also a lot of really good buys out there as well.

Up next: art and literature

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