Haiti’s culture encompasses aspects of the original indigenous inhabitants, the African freed slaves, French Roman Catholicism, and the folklore of voodoo. The most important festival is Carnival, a flamboyant display of pageantry similar to the Mardi Gras of deep-south American cities like New Orleans.
New Year’s Day and Independence Day
New Year’s Day is a widely celebrated holiday across countries following the Christian calendar, but this day is also when Haiti commemorates the country’s independence. Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared the nation free from the French colonizers in 1804, making it a joyous occasion.
The day after New Year’s Day, January 2, Ancestry day commemorates the country’s forefathers and other loved ones. Processions and family meals are customary.
Called “Kanaval” in local Creole, this event takes place annually in January or February and traditionally coincides with the start of Lent. All of Haiti comes alive as the cities are filled with colorful parades and pageants, dancing and singing. The festivities turn into night-long parties where the locals come together in celebration. Lent varies according to the Christian calendar, while Carnival takes place in the preceding weeks, concluding on Shrove Tuesday ( “Fat Tuesday”).
Rara is another festival that is linked to the Christian calendar, taking place on Easter week. There are many parades with traditional Haitian-style and Afro-Caribbean music being played. The lively atmosphere is boosted by the many percussive instruments ringing through the streets, with melodies from a bamboo trumpet-style instrument called a vaksen.
Krik? Krak! Festival
Usually held in May, this family-orientated festival is filled with traditional storytelling of Haitian folklore. There are many other Voodoo celebrations happening throughout the year in different locations.
Held on October 17, this holiday celebrates the death of the modern nation’s founder, Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Haitians are proud that their country became one of the first independent nations in the Americas and was the first ever republic to be led by people of African descent.