The end of the sugar season is cause for celebration. Crop Over, which refers to the crops being over at the end of the back-breaking summer harvest, was originally formed as a way to close out the once thriving sugar industry, when workers would have a final blowout before conserving wages until the next crop. And while tourism has replaced sugar as the main source of income on the islands of Barbados, the Crop Over festival is still celebrated with reckless abandon.
Crop Over's roots as a harvest festival run as deep as the sugarcanes themselves. At one time, Barbados was the world's biggest and most important producer of sugar. Plantations hosted annual harvest celebrations dating back to the 18th century which included singing, dancing and all manner of improvised instruments typical of Caribbean music.
Much like a carnival of feast or famine, wages were good during the harvest, but post-harvest it was time to save up, so locals collectively felt that they might as well have one last good party. When the festival was revived in the 20th century by the Barbados Tourism Authority, it borrowed elements of the neighboring Trinidad Carnival, a more ornate and bawdy event. The influence remained, and the modern version of Crop Over was born. The festival was canceled in the 1940s when the sugar industry waned sufficiently in the wake of World War II, but has been running nonstop since 1974 as a wild, costumed event that feels like a compressed Brazilian Carnival with a distinctly island vibe.
Calypso music engulfs the ears of festival goers, travelers, as well as the entire event which runs for 24 days every summer. Starting on the second Saturday in July, the festival begins with a colorful parade in Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados. Floats, carnival bands, bicycles and decorated carts cruise through town, ending up at the National Stadium just outside of town, where an opening gala takes place. A sugarcane king and queen of the festival is also selected and crowned. Traditionally, they are the most productive sugar croppers of the season. A ceremonial sugarcane baton is passed, representing the last of the harvest and then the real partying begins.
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