West Indian culture is colorful and multifaceted. But what do we mean by “West Indian”? It’s good to know, not just for educational purposes, but also in order to understand the celebration known as the West Indian Day Parade, which takes place each Labor Day in Brooklyn. (In 2020, that means it’s on September 7.)
The West Indies includes an extraordinary range of people and places. But to simplify things a bit, it’s the name for a region of the Caribbean Sea that includes countries comprising the Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antilles and the Lucayan Archipelago.
So let’s party!
West Indian Day Parade timeline
West Indian Day Parade is huge
Upwards of 3 million people now converge on New York for the annual West Indian Day Parade, making it one of the biggest festivals in the world.
The parade moved to Brooklyn
The West Indian-American Day Carnival Association got a permit to parade on Eastern Parkway.
- The 1930s
Carnival started in Harlem
Trinidadian Jessie Waddell started a Carnival in Harlem complete with costume parties at renowned spaces, such as the Savoy and the Audubon Ballrooms.
- The 1920s
The earliest seeds were planted
The origins of West Indian Day Parade can be traced back to private pre-Lenten Carnival parties held by Caribbean immigrants in and around Harlem.
West Indian Day Parade Activities
Get your party self to Brooklyn
There's no way to really understand the West Indian Day Parade without experiencing it for yourself. So plan a trip now, and get to Brooklyn for the biggest party you're likely to see in your lifetime.
Learn a little history
The history of the West Indies is filled with dramatic stories that resonate to this day in the art and culture of the nations which comprise it. Grab a book or a good documentary, and learn a little about the countries represented in the West Indian Day Parade.
Listen to some music
The musical culture of the West Indies is world renowned — everything from gentle calypso to political reggae to uptempo soca. You're sure to find something that gets you moving.
3 Reasons You Just Can't Miss The West Indian Day Parade
They don't get any bigger than this
The West Indian Day Parade is the largest parade of its kind in North America.
The party lasts all weekend
Although the parade itself is on Labor Day, the partying starts days before.
J'ouvert gets the big day started
J'ouvert, meaning "day break," takes place in the early morning hours. It's a wild, colorful, sunrise parade that signals the start of Carnival.
Why We Love West Indian Day Parade
It's one heckuva party
The West Indian Day Parade has become one of New York's major cultural celebration, drawing crowds estimated between 1 and 3 million each year. It celebrates the cultures of many countries, including — but certainly not limited to — Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti, Barbados, Jamaica, Grenada, Suriname, Belize, and the Bahamas.
The parade immerses us in many vibrant cultures
The sights and sounds of West Indian Day Parade are truly wondrous: floats, masqueraders, costumes, music, and steel bands — they all pass by in a colorful, musical and stunning display.
We're hungry for some Caribbean food
One of the best things about the parade is the almost endless variety of food and drink that comes along with it. Butterfly shrimp, curried chicken, meat patties, coconut bread, jerk chicken, oxtail, and more — all washed down with sugarcane juice, rum punch, coconut water or ginger beer. Seriously, we're getting hungry just thinking about it!