Each of the greater United States Virgin Islands has its own celebration. On St. Croix, it is the Crucian Christmas Fiesta, stretching from early December through Three Kings' Day. On St. Thomas, V.I. Carnival begins after Easter and runs until the end of April or beginning of May, depending upon where Easter falls. On St. John, there is a double celebration, as the Emancipation Day of July 3 gives way to American Independence Day on July 4.
The emancipation of the slaves in the Danish West Indies took place on July 3, 1848 amidst much tumult. Talks had been in progress for several years, and the result was always an impasse. While many planters and landowners opposed this change, then-Governor General Peter von Scholten (below, left) had built a groundswell of local support for the notion of landownership, education and freedom for all residents. It is felt that von Scholten's relationship with free Black Anna Heegaard contributed to his compassion for persons of color in the islands he was charged with leading.
With continued delays through the 1830s and 1840s, discussions continued - while unrest grew, particularly in Frederiksted St. Croix. Von Scholten saw a golden opportunity at the first inkling of a major rebellion there, and at last convinced the government of Denmark to abolish slavery.
Re-enactments of the Emancipation Day take place each year on St. John, as part of the monthlong schedule of the St. John Celebration, which also includes the U.S. Independence Day holiday (the Fourth of July). From the pageants (St. John Princess and Queen shows), family events (Bike and Boat Races) and live entertainment onstage at the Winston Wells Ball Park and the Festival Village (also in Cruz Bay), the activities culminate in a grand parade (as grand as quaint, little Cruz Bay St. John can accommodate!) and fireworks in the harbor that can be seen on the East End of St. Thomas (only 20 minutes away via ferry).
A multitude of local foods will be available, either at the cultural fair or from booths in the village: goat water, kallaloo, fried fish and chicken, johnny cake, stew mutton, beef or chicken, dove pork, crab and rice, pates filled with beef, chicken, saltfish or vegetables, and plenty of ground provisions and sides like peas and rice, macaroni and cheese, home made coleslaw, and locally-grown vegetables. Desserts will sharpen the sweet tooth - Vienna Cake, a multilayered confection filled with fruit preserves and covered with a delicate ganache-like icing, sugar cakes, jawbone, stewed cherries, gooseberries, or tamarind, guava, pineapple, or coconut tarts... and local drinks from soursop, tamarind, passionfruit, or mango. Stronger local libations your cup of tea? Jazz up your beverage with a shot of Cane Rum, hard to find but well worth the search!
The ferry services add extra runs, with many St. Thomas and even St. Croix residents arriving to participate or enjoy the festivities. Local service providers usually have their hands full keeping new and old customers happy, so it's a good idea to plan well ahead if you desire car rentals, chef services, marine excursions or any other extras. Even with all the hubbub downtown, villas remain tranquil, as they are away from the Cruz Bay area, but beaches will certainly see more visitors during this time. Whether you're here for work or on vacation, we hope that you will choose to enjoy some or all of the St. John Celebration on the island of St. John! The theme for this year is "Come Jingle and Unwind for Festival 2009!"