6 U.S. Virgin Islands Traditions You'll Want to Adopt
With its beautiful beaches and tropical climate, the U.S. Virgin Islands is a Caribbean paradise. Virgin Islanders on the territory’s main islands— St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas —practice a unique blend of African, Danish, Dutch, French, and American traditions. Read on to learn about six U.S. Virgin Islands traditions you may want to adopt.
1. HAVE YOUR OWN CARNIVAL CELEBRATION
People of the Virgin Islands are serious about having fun. Fusing African traditions with European customs, Carnival is a three- to four-week celebration that occurs in April on St. Thomas, June to July on St. John, and December to January on St. Croix. Initially celebrated in 1912, Carnival has been held annually since 1952. How can you celebrate your own version of Carnival? Do as the people of the Virgin Islands do: Walk in parades, wear larger-than-life costumes for a talent show or pageant, watch fireworks, stay up late, race bikes or boats, see calypso shows, eat local foods, view artwork, or go to an amusement park. Most of all, have fun!
2. TELL STORIES
The Caribbean oral history tradition—first established by African slaves who were prohibited from learning to read and write by their masters—is alive and well in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Some people of the Virgin Islands tell tales that pay homage to the superstitions and beliefs of their ancestors, folding in magical elements like evil spirits. Traditional stories often involve “jumbies,” the spirits of deceased people, and are used as cautionary tales for overly-curious kids or explainers for unfortunate events. (During Carnival, Mocko Jumbies—people on stilts dressed as jumbies—walk in parades and wear colorful costumes.) To inject the spirit of the U.S. Virgin Islands into your life, consider hosting your own storytelling get-together. Light a fire in the fireplace and encourage everyone to come ready to share his or her favorite story.
3. LEARN HOW TO COOK KALLALOO AND RED GROUT
One of the best ways to get to know a culture: learning to appreciate its food. Try cooking up a pot of kallaloo, a gumbo-like dish from the islands that purportedly offers those who eat it good luck in love in the new year. Recipes for kallaloo (also spelled callaloo) vary, but the basic dish is a soupy stew made with salted meat, fish, okra, and spinach. And for dessert, try your hand at red grout (also called rodgrod), a Danish tapioca made with guava, sugar, and spices.
4. CELEBRATE THREE KINGS’ DAY
Although the U.S. Virgin Islands are home to people of all religions and denominations, Baptists and Catholics are the most represented. Three Kings’ Day (also called Epiphany) happens to be a public holiday, and on January 6, Christian Virgin Islanders commemorate the Biblical three wise men’s visit to an infant Jesus Christ. Interested in celebrating at home? Even if you choose not to attend church, have a feast with your family, and then encourage your kids to leave grass in a shoebox beneath their beds. According to legend, during the night, the wise men will swap the grass for presents.
5. GROOVE TO QUELBE MUSIC
Music and dance are an essential part of Virgin Islands culture. Besides listening to calypso, reggae, and steel pan bands, learn about Quelbe, a traditional music and dance style that’s popular on the islands. Also called Fungi music, Quelbe blends African slave beats with Caribbean folk melodies. To make Quelbe, scratch bands use instruments made from whatever they can get their hands on—from dried squashes and other gourds to discarded car parts—in order to produce a percussive beat.
6. DANCE THE QUADRILLE
To get your body moving, try dancing the bamboula or the quadrille, the official dance of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Throughout the centuries, people of the Virgin Islands have put their own spin on the quadrille, a square dance involving two couples that originated in France in the 18th century.
The bamboula, a style of African drumming and movement, is also a celebrated tradition in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Brought to the Caribbean by enslaved Africans, bamboula dance compels dancers to have conversations with their heart beat, the drums. As the rhythm picks up speed, so too, do the movements of the participants.
There’s more to the U.S. Virgin Islands than gorgeous beaches (although they’ve got plenty of those, as well). Rich culture, delicious food, and incredible history await you, too. Click over to VisitUSVI.com for more info about the Islands’ upcoming Centennial Commemoration.