From whence we came ….

Junkanoo is a Bahamian Christmas tradition that has deep roots and has been celebrated for well over 100 years. This unique art form brings together a kaleidoscope of colour, dance and indigenous music to Bay Street on Boxing Day and New Year’s mornings that celebrates our Anglo-Saxon heritage dating back to slavery times.

Back-in-the-day, The Bahamas was a very important trading route and thus has a wealthy maritime heritage as well and so the Festival of Lights Christmas Boat Parade was inspired and born out of a quest to combine all of these powerful cultural influences at this special time of year, showcase historic Nassau Harbour and tell our rich, enduring story.

While Junkanoo is beloved by all Bahamians, its creativity principally rests within the realm of the masses. It was therefore heartening to discover that “Conchie-joe” Bahamians had cultivated a grassroots parade of their own and for years they had been packing coolers full of drinks and party eats and together with family and friends, taking their boats and other water craft, adorned with strings of holiday lights, in a convoy out in Nassau Harbour, in a nautical salute to Christmas under the stars.

With happy experiences drawn from years of attending established parades in Marina del Rey, California and the Winterfest Parade, Fort Lauderdale, the Festival of Lights sought to harness this home grown creativity by inviting the boating community to come together and build on this seafaring tradition, that had been quietly taking place under the radar all these years.   It was also fitting that Sir Durward Knowles, Olympian, Philanthropist and former Nassau Harbour Pilot should take the helm; he graciously accepted and presently serves as Patron for the parade that now bears his name.

Venturing out on the evening of December 14, 2010 after what had been a lovely, hot and sunny day, with clouds mischievously threatening, the heavens eventually opened and a torrential downpour blessed the flotilla as we sailed on regardless. Giddy from the amazing show of public support we were so encouraged.  Roads leading to Montague and Arawak Cay were blocked with cars packed with families trying to get to a spot where they could see the boats. Children were so excited; on Potters Cay Dock cars blew their horns and flashed their lights in the rain as we sailed by and people lined the bridge. At the start, the Royal Police Force Marching Band played on the foreshore and fireworks set the parade in motion in dramatic fashion from Fort Montague as the boats lined up to depart. It was a magical night.

Eight years on, the Bahamian public is more supportive than ever. The parade, which is a permanent fixture on the annual calendar usually takes place on the second Saturday in December, that now serves as the unofficial kick-off to the Christmas party season. The event has always been themed and the leading boats have devised some incredible displays to depict iconic Bahamian milestones.

Shoreline businesses and homes along the parade route are encouraged to join in and add their magic with lighting displays of their own.  The public can now vote for their favourite boat entry online in the People’s Choice Award; this year we will also be livestreaming the event on our Facebook page.

Waterfront restaurants and bars will also be joining in the fun, offering a Festival of Lights special evening promotion for patrons to join them. The Hilton and the Woodes Rodgers Walk eateries will offer an enviable birds-eye view from their balconies, as the boats show themselves off in the Pier #14 turning basin. Green Parrot, East Bay is home to the “After Party” and parade boats tied up for the night at Bay Street Marina provide a fantastic festive backdrop for patrons to see them up close along the boardwalk.

So, whether you plan to enjoy the parade from a favourite shoreline spot, view it over dinner and drinks in a waterfront restaurant or support a charity and be on a boat in the parade this year, get your group together for some wholesome, magical, holiday entertainment and we’ll see you there!