Festivals and Events
When a public holiday falls on Sunday, it is celebrated on the following Monday. If you plan to visit during holiday time, make advance hotel reservations—especially if you plan to spend time in Dangriga during Settlement Day on November 19 (the area has limited accommodations).
Note: On Sundays and a few holidays (Easter and Christmas), most businesses close for the day, and some close the day after Christmas (Boxing Day); on Good Friday most buses do not run. Check ahead of time.
National Holidays in Belize
January 1-----------New Year’s Day
March 9-------------National Heroes and Benefactors
Day (formerly Baron Bliss Day)
March or April-----Good Friday
March or April-----Easter Sunday
May 1----------------Labour Day
May 25--------------Commonwealth Day
September 10------National Day
September 21------Independence Day
October 12----------Columbus Day
November 19-------Garifuna Settlement Day
December 25--------Christmas Day
December 26--------Boxing Day
Garifuna Settlement Day
On November 19, Belize recognizes the 1823 arrival and settlement of the first Garifuna in the southern districts of Belize. Belizeans from all over the country gather in Dangriga, Hopkins, Punta Gorda, and Belize City to celebrate with the Garifuna. The day begins with the reenactment of the arrival of the settlers and continues with all-night dancing to the local Garifuna drums and live punta bands. Traditional food—and copious amounts of rum, beer, and bitters—is available at street stands and local cafés.
St. George’s Caye Day
On September 10, 1798, at St. George’s Caye off the coast of Belize, British buccaneers fought and defeated the Spaniards over the territory of Belize. The tradition of celebrating this victory is still carried on each year, followed by a weeklong calendar of events from religious services to carnivals. During this week, Belize City feels like a carnival with parties everywhere. On the morning of September 10, the whole city parades through the streets and enjoys local cooking, spirits, and music with an upbeat atmosphere that continues well into the beginning of Independence Day on September 21.
National Independence Day
On September 21, 1981, Belize gained independence from Great Britain. Each year, Belizeans celebrate with carnivals on the main streets of downtown Belize City and district towns. Like giant county fairs, they include displays of local arts, crafts, and cultural activities, while happy Belizeans dance to a variety of exotic rhythms from punta to soka to reggae. Again, don’t miss the chance to sample local dishes from every ethnic group in the country. With this holiday back to back with the celebration of the Battle of St. George’s Caye, Belize enjoys two weeks of riotous, cacophonous partying.
National Heroes and Benefactors Day (formerly Baron Bliss Day)
On March 9, this holiday is celebrated with various activities, mostly water sports. English sportsman Baron Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss, who remembered Belize with a generous legacy when he died, designated a day of sailing and fishing in his will. A formal ceremony is held at his tomb below the lighthouse in the Belize Harbor, where he died on his boat. Fishing and sailing regattas begin after the ceremony.
Ambergris Caye Celebration
If you’re wandering around Belize near June 26–29, hop a boat or plane to San Pedro and join the locals in a festival they have celebrated for decades, El Día de San Pedro, in honor of the town’s namesake, St. Peter. This is good fun; reservations are suggested. Carnaval, one week before Lent, is another popular holiday on the island. The locals walk in a procession through the streets to the church, celebrating the last hurrah (for devout Catholics) before Easter. There are lots of good dance competitions.
If traveling in the latter part of September in San Antonio Village in the Toledo District, you have a good chance of seeing the deer dance performed by the Q’eqchi’ Maya villagers. Dancing and celebrating begins around the middle of August, but the biggest celebration begins with a novena, nine days before the feast day of San Luis.
Actually, this festival was only recently revived. The costumes were burned in an accidental fire some years back at a time when (coincidentally) the locals had begun to lose interest in the ancient traditions. Thanks to the formation of the Toledo Maya Cultural Council, the Maya once again are realizing the importance of recapturing their past. Some dances are now performed during an annual Cacao Festival in Toledo District during the last weekend in May.
© Joshua Berman and Avalon Travel from Moon Belize, 9th Edition