Today is Independence Day in the Dominican Republic, celebrated as the day the country won freedom from Haiti in 1844. Today is also the last day of Carnaval, which is celebrated on Sundays during the entire month of February - and today. These celebrations feature parades lasting the entire day, involving thousands of participants wearing elaborate costumes, marching along major thoroughfares of every town and city. Each location has its own unique details, from costumes to music, dance, food, and drink.
The most recognizable aspect of the Carnaval tradition revolves around the colorful costumes, topped off by intricately designed masks. Many of the costumes represent diabolical spirits, known as diablos cojuelos – perhaps the most jovial devil costumes around. Others include animal or human representations. Bells, seashells, and other baubles sewn on to the costumes add to the sensory experience of these visually stimulating spectacles. In cities across the country, groups compete against each other for best costume prizes.
Detail of Carnaval Cape
Watching the parade is the best way to participate in Carnaval, but beware – standing too close to the route will make the onlooker become a participant. Many of the parade walkers wield vejigas, or inflated bladders (formerly pig; now synthetic). They flail these vejigas at the backsides of unsuspecting spectators and other marchers, resulting in monumental bruises by the end of the day. Besides this somewhat violent aspect of the parades, there’s also tasty street food, rum and cold beer, music, and games to round out the day.
There is no better place to revel in Carnaval than in La Vega, an otherwise industrial town south of Santiago. The city center explodes in excitement from early in the morning until late at night every Sunday. The parade routes across dozens of city blocks, and the all-day party culminates in fireworks and a concert in a nearby square. As mentioned above, the largest celebration happens today, timed to coincide with Independence Day. Dominicans from across the country visit La Vega at least one weekend in February and if possible, travel on this day to revel in the fanfare that commemorates their nation’s most important holiday.