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Sher’Niah Freeman Crowned at 70th St. John Celebration Queen Pageant

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Sher’Niah Freeman channels Cuban singer Celia Cruz during the “International Wear” segment. (Photo courtesy Division of Festivals)

The 70th St. John Celebration Queen pageant commenced with vibrant competition on Saturday night, featuring contestants J’Naiya Squiabro and Sher’Niah Freeman. Both contestants took the stage in striking silver dresses adorned with fringe, setting the tone for an evening of elegance and talent.

J’Naiya Squiabro, a recent Ivanna Eudora Kean High School graduate and U.S. Army enlistee, introduced herself as “the chosen one.” Meanwhile, Sher’Niah Freeman, a sophomore at the University of the Virgin Islands, declared she embodied “the undeniable essence of a queen.” Their opening speeches, each worth up to 25 points, showcased their confidence and set high expectations for the evening.

The swimwear segment followed, with contestants judged on poise, modeling technique, fit, and stage presence for a total of 50 points. Squiabro dazzled in a sequined white monokini, dubbed “Platinum Jubilee,” accentuated with strategically placed gems. Freeman opted for a blush-colored maillot in crushed velvet, featuring a mesh cutout and deeper pink gems at the waist.

The next segment required the contestants to display their talents while donning “international wear,” scored out of 100 points. Squiabro’s “Welcome to Guatemala” presentation featured a costume inspired by the National Palace of Culture and the Museum of Archaeology, complemented by a hand-painted skirt and a white winged headpiece. She performed the “Dance of the Conquest,” transitioning into a sequined bodice and mesh ruffled skirt for a dynamic dance and drum performance.

Freeman paid tribute to Celia Cruz, the “Queen of Salsa,” with a vibrant yellow-orange ombre duster, orange wig, and gem-encrusted sunglasses. She performed “A Negra Tiene Tumbao” and portrayed the history of Afro-Cubans, donning flowing white garments and a pale blue shimmery dress for the Tumba Francesca dance. Despite wardrobe malfunctions, Freeman closed with a spirited salsa performance in a sequined Cuban flag ball gown.

The evening wear segment, also worth 100 points, saw Squiabro in a royal purple gown with crystal columns and tasseled off-shoulder sleeves. Freeman chose a white column gown with strategically placed sequins and fringe.

During the question and answer segment, worth 25 points, Squiabro proposed opening a clinic for young people’s mental wellbeing, emphasizing gradual emotional openness. Freeman suggested community seminars to educate on mental health warning signs and advocated for mental health classes in schools.

After the personal interview scores were combined with the evening’s performances, the judges deliberated. Amidst the audience’s anticipation, Sher’Niah Freeman was crowned the 2024 St. John Celebration Queen, to the delight of the cheering crowd.

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Visitor’s Guide to Carnival Celebrations in USVI

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Carnival celebrations in the USVI are a vibrant and culturally immersive experience, offering a feast for the senses with colorful parades, lively music, and tantalizing food. Each of the main islands—St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix—hosts its own unique version of carnival, each with its own distinct flavor and traditions. Here’s everything you need to know to make the most of your visit to these festive events.

St. Thomas Carnival

When: Late April to Early May

St. Thomas Carnival is the largest and most well-known carnival in the USVI. The celebrations kick off with a series of pageants and calypso shows, building up to the main events in the last week. Key highlights include:

  • J’ouvert: A pre-dawn street party featuring local bands on trucks, known for its energetic and joyous atmosphere.
  • Parades: There are both children’s and adults’ parades. The children’s parade is a delight with kids in elaborate costumes, while the adults’ parade showcases stunning outfits, dance troupes, and lively music.
  • Food Fair: Sample local delicacies like conch fritters, johnnycakes, and kallaloo at this bustling event.
  • Carnival Village: Open throughout the carnival, this area is filled with music, food stalls, and amusement rides.

St. John Carnival

When: June to July

St. John hosts its carnival to coincide with the Fourth of July, blending patriotic celebrations with traditional carnival festivities. Highlights include:

  • Parades: Colorful and vibrant, featuring local dancers, musicians, and elaborate floats.
  • Food and Music: Enjoy local cuisine and live performances of reggae, calypso, and steelpan music.
  • Fireworks: A spectacular display on July 4th, lighting up the night sky over Cruz Bay.

St. Croix Carnival

When: December to January

St. Croix’s carnival, also known as the Crucian Christmas Festival, spans the holiday season and into the New Year. Notable events are:

  • Festival Village: A hub of activity with music, dancing, and local food vendors.
  • Parades: The adult parade is a grand affair with dazzling costumes and energetic performances, while the children’s parade is equally impressive.
  • J’ouvert: Similar to the event in St. Thomas, this early morning party is a carnival staple.
  • Clashing Bands: Local bands compete, providing a soundtrack of soca, calypso, and reggae.

Tips for Attending USVI Carnivals

  1. Plan Ahead: Check the specific dates and schedules as they can vary each year. Booking accommodation and flights early is advisable due to the popularity of these events.
  2. Dress Comfortably: Lightweight clothing and comfortable shoes are essential, as you will likely spend a lot of time walking and dancing.
  3. Stay Hydrated: The tropical climate can be intense, so keep water on hand.
  4. Embrace the Culture: Try local foods, participate in dances, and learn about the traditions to fully enjoy the carnival experience.
  5. Safety: Be mindful of your belongings in crowded areas and follow local guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit.

Carnivals in the USVI offer a unique glimpse into the vibrant culture and joyous spirit of the islands. Whether you’re drawn by the parades, the music, or the food, these celebrations are a must-see for any visitor. Plan your trip to coincide with one of these lively events and immerse yourself in the unforgettable experience of a USVI carnival.

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Virgin Islands Carnival: History and Significance

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The Virgin Islands Carnival, a vibrant and colorful celebration, is deeply rooted in the cultural and historical tapestry of the Caribbean. This annual festival, particularly prominent on St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix, draws visitors from around the world to witness its unique blend of music, dance, food, and pageantry.

Origins and Historical Context

The origins of Carnival in the Virgin Islands can be traced back to the European colonization of the Caribbean during the 1600s and 1700s. Europeans brought their own festive traditions, including religious holidays and street processions. Enslaved Africans, who were brought to the islands to work on plantations, also contributed their rich cultural heritage to these celebrations. Despite facing severe restrictions and bans on their traditional practices, Africans adapted and merged their customs with those of the Europeans, creating a unique cultural fusion that laid the foundation for modern Carnival celebrations​ (Canvas Yacht Charters)​​ (Virgin Islands)​.

The first recorded Carnival on St. Thomas took place in 1912, organized to showcase local culture. However, it wasn’t until 1952 that Carnival became an official annual event, thanks to the efforts of Ron de Lugo, who championed the revival of the festival despite initial resistance from the community​ (Island Roots Boat Charters)​​ (Virgin Islands)​.

Cultural Significance and Traditions

Carnival in the Virgin Islands is much more than a festival; it is a celebration of cultural identity, resilience, and community spirit. The festivities highlight the islands’ diverse cultural influences, blending African, European, and indigenous traditions. Key events include colorful parades, calypso music competitions, and traditional dances, all of which showcase the vibrant heritage of the islands​ (Canvas Yacht Charters)​​ (UVI Voice)​.

One of the most significant aspects of Carnival is the grand parade, featuring elaborately decorated floats, troupes in vibrant costumes, and rhythmic steelpan and calypso music. The parade is a display of creativity and cultural pride, drawing thousands of spectators to the streets of Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas​ (Virgin Islands)​​ (Carnivaland)​.

Key Events and Activities

Carnival in the Virgin Islands is packed with a variety of events that cater to all ages and interests. Some of the highlights include:

  • J’ouvert: A lively early-morning street party where participants dance through the streets covered in paint and mud, celebrating to the pulsating rhythms of soca and calypso music.
  • Food Fair: A culinary showcase featuring local delicacies such as fried fish, johnnycakes, and kallaloo, allowing visitors to savor the diverse flavors of the Caribbean.
  • Calypso and Soca Competitions: These music contests feature local artists performing original songs that often include social and political commentary, adding a layer of depth to the entertainment​ (Canvas Yacht Charters)​​ (Carnivaland)​.

Economic and Social Impact

Carnival plays a crucial role in the social and economic fabric of the Virgin Islands. It promotes tourism, drawing visitors from around the globe and boosting local businesses. Additionally, Carnival fosters a sense of unity and pride among residents, as it is a time for families and communities to come together and celebrate their shared heritage​ (Virgin Islands)​​ (UVI Voice)​.

Future of Carnival

The future of Carnival in the Virgin Islands looks promising, with continuous efforts to preserve its cultural significance while adapting to modern times. Embracing technological advancements and sustainable practices will ensure that Carnival remains a vibrant and integral part of Virgin Islands culture for generations to come​ (UVI Voice)​.

In conclusion, the Virgin Islands Carnival is a celebration of history, culture, and community. Its rich traditions and festive atmosphere make it a must-see event that encapsulates the spirit and resilience of the islands. Whether you’re drawn by the music, the food, or the sheer spectacle, Carnival offers an unforgettable experience that highlights the best of Virgin Islands culture.

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Vibrant Troupes and Local Bands Shine at 70th St. John Celebration

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The streets of Cruz Bay came alive with music and festivity as the 70th St. John Celebration parade unfolded on Thursday. Spectators eagerly lined the roadsides, witnessing masqueraders in feathered and bejeweled costumes dancing behind trucks that carried popular local bands.

Virgin Islanders from across the territory gathered in St. John to join the Celebration. Among the highlights were five troupes from St. Thomas, unified under the “What-Ah-Real-Epic-Allure Mas & Posh” banner, along with the St. Thomas majorettes.

St. John’s own troupes were also prominently featured. L’Amour depicted the “Rize of the Phoenix” with fiery yellow costumes, while Diamonds and Gems dazzled in a vibrant rainbow of colors. Cameras captured Lt. Governor Tregenza Roach enjoying the festivities with members of the Gypsies troupe. The children of the St. John School of the Arts delighted the crowd with a mini-Broadway performance. The Elskoe and Associates troupe impressed with their portrayal of “Carnival is Royalty and Splendor,” showcasing elaborate costumes in red, purple, and gold.

Local Carnival royalty graced the event, with the reigning Prince and Princess, Jr. Miss, and Miss St. John making appearances.

The celebration continued even after the last troupes exited the square. Spectators moved to the Cruz Bay harbor to enjoy a spectacular fireworks display, capping off the 2024 St. John Celebration in style.

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