Long before all other Dominican Republic holidays were celebrated, the Dominicans have already developed a special type of celebration called the Carnaval. Its history stretches as far back as 1500s with a Cocktail of tradition that comes from the Early Christians who have settled in Hispaniola with substantial contributions from the Natives of the land as well as from early African settlers.
And since then, the people of Dominican Republic have conducted some of the celebrations in the country. It is not surprising then that nowadays, centuries after the first festivities were held, the Carnaval still stands as the most eminent Dominican Republic holidays. A fact apparent because the Carnaval is the only feast that is celebrated for an entire month. To top this off, many of the feasts and festivities in the country are carvanalesque in nature.
During the month of February, different towns and municipalities conduct their own Carnavals. Each different from the next, but all equally enjoyable.
In La Vega, one of the most prominent provinces in the Dominican Republic, the very first Carnaval took place in 1520. Nowadays, La Vega is known for the liveliest and most colorful Carnaval Celebrations in the entire nation. The celebration spans the entire month of February with the highlights of the feast occurring on all Sundays.
Central to the Carnaval is the traditional Carnaval character of each province. La Vega adopted a medieval devil that has been the Carnaval character of the province for the last 100 years. The Limping Devil, or as it is called in the native tongue, the ‘Diablo Cojuelo’, is a brilliantly colored, artistic recreation of a snake devil. It is paraded throughout the site of celebration every year.
The second largest city in the nation, Santiago, celebrates Carnaval quite differently from all other cities. For the residents of Santiago, Carnaval is a bi-annual celebration that is held both in February in Time For the independence celebrations and pre-Lenten feasts and in August, on the Day of the Restoration. It is in Santiago that most battles of the restoration occurred. It has been this way since 1867.
There are two types of traditional Carnaval characters in Santiago the Lechones (from the native roast pork called ‘lechon’ that was adopted by the Joyeros of the La Joya) and the Pepineros that was adopted by the Los Pepines. Like the Diablo Cojuelo, these Carnaval characters are made artistically by combining taffeta, silk, satin and decorative materials like beads, sequence, belts, and mirrored disks.
In Cotui, celebrations are what others may call, ‘world upside down’ events. Garbage become highly fashionable, a woman becomes a man, and fragile leaves become armors.
When it comes to tradition and colors, the Carnaval in Salcedo is second to none. The principal Carnaval character is the Diablo which takes up many different faces of animals. At the end of the celebrations, the participants rip their costumes apart to symbolize renewal.
For something that caters to all kinds of influences on the Dominican Republic’s culture, the Carnaval in Puerto Plata provides the best insights. It combines the spectacle of Medieval Europe with traditional African and Taino elements.