Labor Day in New York City, is synonymous with the West Indian American Day Carnival, which is held on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, New York. It is the time when the spirit of Carnival comes to New York and people gravitate toward Brooklyn where all roads lead to Carnival. Anyone who has not witnessed or taken part in a Labor Day/West Indian American Day Carnival is missing one of the most exciting and memorable experiences of a lifetime. The rewards that await the five senses, individually and collectively exceed the wildest imagination.
This year September 4, 2006 will mark the 39th Annual West Indian American Day Carnival and Labor Day Carnival Parade. The excitement and anticipation leading up to the big main event celebration is heightened by several days of pre celebration and warm up activities such as Caribbean Carnival Style Inclusive Fete, Ladies Night, Brassfes, Panorama, Dimanche Gras and culminating in a predawn celebration called "J'Ouvert," or "jour ouvert" which means "daybreak" in French. This tradition began in Trinidad in 1937 and is now celebrated in New York in conjunction with Carnival. Traditionally, only steel drums are played as the revelers dressed in their J'Ouvert costumes (much less elaborate and expensive than the Carnival day costume) take the predawn celebration to the streets at 2 AM starting at Grand Army Plaza and dancing through Flatbush to Empire Blvd, and on to Nostrand Avenue and Linden Blvd where the revelers disperse for a few hours until 11 AM when the parade begins.
This event boasts as the biggest of its kind in New York City. It is the cultural event that brings to life the diversity and ethnicity of the people who work together to make this an annual event enjoyed by many New Yorkers and visitors who come to New York just for the experience of seeing hundreds of floats and sound trucks, carnival dancers in rainbow-hued plumes and peacock feathers and elaborate costumes dancing to the rhythm of the very loud music. The extravaganza begins at 11am at the corner of Rochester and Eastern Parkway and ends at Grand Army Plaza where everyone can join in the gyrations and "jump up" with the band and other revelers. Remember to take earplugs. They can come in handy should you find yourself standing next to one of the oversized speakers.
Labor Day Parade/The West Indian American Day Carnival is the biggest Labor Day event in New York with over 2.5 million participants each year. People travel from near and far to be a part of the festivities with its elaborately designed costumes of beauty and pageantry. The masqueraders and dancers mingling, winding and grinding to the passionate beats of calypso and reggae emanating from huge trucks equipped with sound systems and speakers and some with live performers a top. Side streets and main thoroughfares are transformed into stalls and stands with vendors all lined up selling their wares of foods, crafts, clothing, books, Jewelry, clothing, art, beverages, and much more.
The food experience on Carnival Day is unparallel in its diversity as every Caribbean Island is represented with their traditional dish whether you have a hankering jerk chicken, chicken stew, fried chicken, beef stew, oxtail, rice and peas (more rice than peas), peas and rice (more peas than rice), salad, macaroni pie, fried parrot fish, curry goat, roti, callaloo, oxtail stew, souse, salt fish, fried bake, coconut bread, jerk pork, pork stew; Bar-b-q-beef, beef stew, collard greens, salads, red beans and rice, conch fritters, codfish cakes, baked fish; johnnycakes, baked macaroni and macaroni salad, assorted cakes, pies and breads. Refreshments include ginger beer, mauby, sorrel drink and an assortment of fruit juices. There is something to satisfy every palate with one warning, most meats dishes are very hot meaning pepper hot and spicy and definitely not for the novice.
To ensure that your Carnival experience enjoyable as well as safe and comfortable The West Indian American Day Carnival Association makes the following recommendations:
1.Do not dress up. J'Ouvert is an extremely casual event. Traditionally powder, paint and dye throwing are among the festivities, so it is wise to wear cloths you do not mind getting messy.
2.Dress warm. New York nights can get chilly around this time of year so it is a good idea to bring a jacket or sweatshirt.
3.Wear comfortable shoes. The route for J'Ouvert is long and after it is over people return home on foot. If you plan to go to the parkway in the morning, the last thing you want is sore feet.
4.Bring a whistle. Many steel bands have an 'engine room' with percussion instruments made form everyday items that can maintain the rhythm for tunes played by the steel drummers. It is the practice for revelers to complement this rhythm section with whistles or bottle and spoon.
For Labor Day parade:
1.Come out early. The parade gets bigger each year with over 2 million participants on the Parkway. Police crowd barriers make it difficult to walk around, so you should find a good spot early where you can see clearly. You should be very patient; the thickness of the crowd makes things move slowly.
2.Dress comfortably. Wear shoes that you can walk long distances in. people will be stepping on your toes so open toe sandals are not recommended.
3.Drink plenty of water. The sun will be on your head for hours, coupled with the crowds; it is easy to get dehydrated. Some people have been known to faint from being overwhelmed with heat so it is important to stay cool.
4.Bring your flag! Represent your country with your national flag or rag. Don't be the one left out!
5.Get plenty of rest. For those who are going to J'Ouvert the night before, playing mas, or both, it is imperative to get enough rest before going on the Parkway. People have suffered from exhaustion and dehydration in the past.
HAVE FUN! Carnival time is a time for celebration. There is no room for sour faces. Come out and enjoy yourselves.
Travel Directions by train: Take #2 train to Grand Army Plaza or to Franklin Avenue, the #3 train to Grand Army Plaza or to Franklin Avenue, the #4 train to Franklin Avenue or to Utica Avenue or take the #5 train to Franklin Avenue. The Eastern Parkway (Brooklyn Museum) stop is closed during this event. The only way to miss the event is by car. You will not get close enough to see.
For additional information contact the West Indian American Day Carnival Association at 718-467-1797 or visit www.wiadca.org