Thursday, February 29, 2024

SHANTAL MUNRO-KNIGHT: Celebrating bank holidays


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I PARTICIPATED in the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) May Day parade. While I had not participated in the actual parade before, I had on previous occasions visited Browne’s Beach to be part of the celebrations there.

What struck me as I walked was the number of onlookers standing on the streets, some taking pictures and others hailing friends who were part of the parade. I could not help but wonder if they truly understood the significance of the event or it is that they were just out for the morning because it was something to do. 

I was even more struck when someone who was walking along with me began to ask questions like who started the march, how long has it actually had been going on and are there specific issues that the parade seeks to highlight every year. As I mentally searched for the answers I began to wonder if as a society we truly understood the history and the significance behind any of the public holidays that we covet so much. I had the same sense as my family and I were driving around picnicking on National Heroes Day. It seemed a good day for family and friends to relax and to hang out but I do not think there was much conscious thought of why we had the public holiday in the first place.

It also gave me cause to reflect on the dwindling crowds that gather to participate in the Emancipation Day walk, which has moved from a national event to something coordinated by a small group who remain interested in the significance of the day. The only real public holiday which seems to garner any real national traction is Kadooment and even with this there is certainly very little link with the historical moment which gave rise to the celebration in the first place. It has now become a commercial event featuring skimpy costumes and gyrating people; that is about the sum of it.  

Of course we have Independence which perhaps in all fairness is still nationally celebrated even though the scale seems to vary at some points. I would suggest however that the main focus of this is the annual Independence parade which is due to the diligence and commitment of the hundreds of uniformed groups and school children who perhaps have no choice but to participate faithfully every year.     

It is indeed an old cliché to talk about understanding the past so as not to repeat the mistakes in the future. However, because it is old does not make the value of the sentiment any less poignant. These public holidays such as May Day were bestowed because they represented critical moments in our history that either should be celebrated or reflected on. While it is true that we all have different ways of celebrating and reflecting and although I am no way casting judgement on any person or group for how they might choose to use their public holiday, it just seems to me that perhaps there might be more celebration than reflection.

Moreover, somewhere along the line, little by little it seems we have the lost the impetus to continually encourage people to remember what these moments are about. Outside of schools and perhaps a few programmes on specific radio stations there is not the sense nationally that these moments hold any real significance for our society generally. I am not sure if that is a fair statement or if I am just speaking out of my overarching fear as I said last week that we are losing our sense of who the Bajan is. The sense of identify which holds people together is made up of different facets; a shared sense and appreciation of one’s history is one of the most important facets. Perhaps we need to have another public holiday as a national day of reflection on the significance of the public holidays that we do have.

Shantal Munro-Knight is a development specialist and executive coordinator at the Caribbean Policy Development Centre. Email


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