Dominicans like to find any excuse to party. Each community has its own festival honoring its patron saints, while many nationwide religious events blend Catholic and African-influenced voodoo traditions. The February 27 anniversary of the Dominican Republic’s independence from Haiti coincides with the last day of its annual Carnival. In August, there is another Dominican Republic holiday to celebrate its independence, this time from Spain, on Restoration Day.
Virgen de Altagracia
No Dominican religious day is more important than this January 21 tribute to the patron saint, the Virgin of Altagracia. It takes several days to make the pilgrimage to the basilica in the eastern community of Higuay where a 15th century painting of Altagracia hangs. The trip is just one of many smaller vigils and services held throughout the Dominican Republic and once the praying ends, the parties begin.
Juan Pablo Duarte Day
This late January celebration in honor of Juan Pablo Duarte, one of the biggest fighters for an independent Dominican Republic, is held on the closest Monday to Duarte’s birthday, January 26. People lay wreaths and flowers on his tomb at Santo Domingo’s Altar de la Patria and children march alongside military members in parades across the country. The liveliest celebrations take place in front of the statue at Duarte Park.
The final day of Carnival falls on February 27, the same day that Dominican Republic became independent from over two decades of Haitian rule. Although each community celebrates in their own way, no festival is bigger than the one in La Vega, where revelers wear devil horns and whack each other with balloons. Santo Domingo’s Carnival culminates with a giant Independence Day parade along the Malecón.
The normally vibrant Dominican Republic grinds to a halt during the annual Christian Holy Week celebrations, which usually take place in early April. Church services and parties are the two most important features of these Easter festivities. The Dominican Republic’s Haitian community incorporates ancient voodoo ceremonies in their traditions.
The sounds of conga drums and other African instruments ring throughout the Dominican Republic during this lively festival held in June, seven weeks after Semana Santa. The biggest Espiritu Santo celebration takes place in a community called Villa Mella situated not far from Santo Domingo.
The Malecón comes alive with the sound of merengue during this annual Santo Domingo festival, which starts in late July and coincides with the August 4 anniversary of the city’s founding. Several of the world’s finest dancers and musicians perform live while enjoying separate food and craft fairs.
In 1863, the Dominican Republic regained its independence from Spain for the second time. Each August 16, Dominicans celebrate their ‘second independence’ by dressing in elaborate costumes and marching in street parades. The two biggest celebrations are in Santo Domingo’s Plaza España and in Santiago, the city where the fight began.
Puerto Plata Festival
Fuerte San Felipe is the main location of this lively October festival on the Dominican Republic’s north coast. The most talented folk, blues, jazz, and merengue musicians perform during the day’s costumed parades, food fairs and dance performances. African spirituals are also part of the tradition.