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Bermuda's Public Holidays in 2016, 2017 and 2018

Their dates, how and why celebrated, with history, solemnity and traditions

line drawing

By Keith Archibald Forbes (see About Us) exclusively for Bermuda Online

Bermuda does not have USA-style public holidays where the shops, restaurants and essential services to visitors are open most hours daily and close only twice a year. Instead, the following Public Holidays apply with local services reducing on those days as shown below.


2016 2017 2018
New Year's Day Friday, January 1 Sunday, January 1 (Public Holiday Monday, January 2) Monday, January 1
Good Friday Friday, March 25 Friday, April 14 Friday, March 30
Bermuda Day. (Originally Victoria Day, Empire Day, Commonwealth Day and Heritage Day). Tuesday, May 24 Wednesday, May 24 Thursday, May 24
National Heroes Day Monday, June 20 Monday, June 19 Monday, June 18
Emancipation Day (first day of Cup Match) Thursday, July 28 Thursday, August 3 Thursday, August 2
Somer's Day (second day of Cup Match) Friday, July 29 Friday, August 4 Friday, August 3
Labour Day Monday, September 5 Monday, September 4 Monday, September 3
Remembrance Day Friday, November 11 Saturday, November 11 (Public Holiday Monday, November 13) Sunday, November 11 (Public Holiday November 12)
Christmas Day Sunday, December 25 (Public Holiday Tuesday, December 27) Monday, December 25 Tuesday, December 25
Boxing Day Monday, December 26 Tuesday, December 26 Wednesday, December 26

General notes

Not published or open or reduced services on public holidays

Holiday trading license

Traditionally holiday trading licence owners have been allowed to open between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. only. Section eight of Bermuda's Public Holiday Act prohibits selling, exposing or offering for sale to the public any goods or merchandise, the opening of any shop and the admittance of any customer into a shop on a public holiday without a holiday trading licence.

Unaffected by public holidays

Restaurants owned by hotels will be open. So will a few small convenience stores which are allowed to have more leeway than larger food stores.

Next Bermuda Public Holiday 2016, Bermuda Day, Tuesday, May 24

Bermuda Day 2011 ParadeFront Street, Hamilton. Tourists wishing to see it should take a bus, ferry or moped. There is always a specific theme for each year. Thousands of people crowd the streets of Hamilton to witness the annual Bermuda Day Parade. Dancers, drummers and dozens of parade floats set out from Bernard's Park while revelers played music throughout Marsh Folly and Cedar Avenue. Elaborate costumes and even more elaborate floats marked the festivities

Participants usually include marching bands, dancers, Bermuda Gombeys, Bermuda Islanders pipe and drum band, politicians with speeches and restaurant stands offering tasty, hot and cold selections of specialty Bermudian dishes. 

This day began in Britain in 1902 as the celebration of the birthday of Queen Empress Victoria. The Earl of Meath inaugurated it as the day on which young people would be trained in their British Empire citizenship. He got the idea from a newspaper clipping in Hamilton, Ontario, which noted a patriotic parade for children organized by Mrs. Reginald Fessenden. 

It began in Bermuda in 1909, from the town of St. George to Somerset. Lord Meath was successful in Britain in establishing what became known as Empire Day on May 24.

 Then it became Commonwealth Day, but in Bermuda, what became known as Bermuda Day replaced it. It was when Bermuda was experiencing bloody civil unrest in the 1970s. Lord Pitt, a black member of the Greater London Council who was sent out to make recommendations after the riots, suggested it as a way to bring Bermudians of different races together in harmony.

It includes what used to be called the Bermuda Day Half Marathon Derby, now renamed the Appleby (local lawyers who have sponsored the race since 1995) Half Marathon Derby, raced from Somerset to Hamilton, 13 miles by road, over hills and dales. Bermuda's racing legend "Sir" Stanley Burgess, who died in 1984, participated for over 50 years, beginning in 1921 when he was 20. He won it ten times. His marathon preparation began with a bath in port wine, honey, beet tops and rum. He rubbed his legs with tincture of myrrh, turtle oil, oil of wintergreen with hazel, and old rum. His final race was in 1983, when he was 84. He was awarded the Queen's Certificate and Badge of Honor in 1971. 

Bermuda Fitted DinghyThere is also a cycle race. Scores of cyclists set off from Somerset finishing at about 9.30am. 

Bermuda Day is also when Bermuda Fitted Dinghy Racing begins its annual season.  

Dinghies are 14 feet long, with 40 foot masts and more sail than any other vessel of similar length. 

The crew improvise for survival and seamanship. 

They jibe from port to starboard for prevailing winds, try to keep upright and can take on gallons of water. 

To reduce weight and keep afloat, they jump or get pushed off. With right conditions and a good helmsman, they achieve high speeds. 

But they often they sink or are dismasted before the finishing line. Always entertaining and sometimes hilarious.

Photo: Bermuda Fitted Dinghy.

2016. Monday June 20. National Heroes' Day

Bermuda National Heroes day 

2015. June 8. The Island’s National Heroes for 2015 were named — Gladys Morrell and Sir Edward “ET” Richards. Ms Morrell was the suffragette leader of Bermuda’s votes-for-women campaign who risked imprisonment for the cause. Sir Edward was Bermuda’s first black Premier, who took a powerful stand against segregation. Yesterday’s announcement from Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, the Minister of Community and Cultural Affairs, ended a fallow period for nominating National Heroes. The last to be put forward was Mary Prince, in 2012. Ms Gordon-Pamplin said it had been decided that Bermuda National Heroes would be posthumous designations. “Both Gladys Morrell and Sir Edward “ET” Richards have significantly shaped our country and her development,” she said. “Their contributions have been profound. Both individuals embodied many of the criteria that had been established under Bermuda’s National Heroes guidelines to help determine National Heroes.” Ms Gordon-Pamplin listed the criteria that the naming and recognition committee took into account before deciding to honour Ms Morrell and Sir Edward Richards. This included making a significant and lasting contribution to Bermuda, enriching the lives of others, and leaving a legacy that will stand the test of time and be relevant in the future. She said a National Hero would have contributed to the quality of life in Bermuda, been considered outstanding in their area of activity, had name recognition among the general public, was recognized by his or her profession, and was reflective of our cultural heritage and diversity. Ms Gordon-Pamplin said: “There is no doubt that both Gladys Morrell and Sir Edward “ET” Richards met most, if not all, of the criteria.” Last December, Wayne Scott, then Minister for Community, Culture and Sports, appointed a naming and recognition committee tasked with receiving and reviewing nominations from the public. “The committee did not include any politicians but were representatives of the community at large,” Ms Gordon-Pamplin said. The committee made recommendations to the Cabinet, who made the final selection. Ms Gordon-Pamplin said that Mrs Morrell was remembered as one of the primary forces advocating for women’s voting rights in Bermuda. “Mrs Morrell demonstrated tremendous courage, perseverance and fortitude in the face of serious challenges, mountains of obstacles and personal risk of imprisonment,” she added. “[She] shone a spotlight on a number of other issues in the community, including the very high infant mortality rate. She was a co-founder of the Bermuda Welfare Society; which established Bermuda’s district nursing system. She was also concerned about environmental issues; hence the Morrell Nature Reserve named in her honour. Sir Edward was instrumental in shaping and directing the political landscape as we know it today. [He] was one of the principal architects of the 1968 Bermuda Constitution. During his tenure as leader of the Government, major political changes occurred. The Constitution was further refined, resulting in the now familiar bodies and titles such as Cabinet, Senate, Ministers and Premier. Sir Edward had been a schoolteacher at the Berkeley Institute, was active in organizations such as the Pembroke Hamilton Club and the Warwick Workman’s Club, and previously worked as an assistant editor of the Recorder. Both of the National Heroes being inducted this year have helped to progress Bermuda to the country that we know today. We are indeed most grateful for their sacrifices, their commitment to right ‘wrongs’ and their fortitude.” This year’s National Heroes are to be inducted at 4pm on Sunday in King’s Square, St George.

2014. No named heroes or heroines named for 2014. 

2014, June 7. National heroes were never meant to be named every year, according to Minister of Community, Culture and Sports Wayne Scott. His comments came in the House of Assembly following confirmation that no new heroes would be named when Bermuda celebrates National Heroes Day later this month. However, Mr Scott said the Ministry would work to reinstate a Naming and Recognition Committee, responsible for overseeing public nominations and naming future honorees. A total of five heroes have been honoured since the National Heroes Day was established but no new names have been added to the list since Mary Prince in 2012. Mr Scott said: "It was never intended to name a new National Hero each year. As I mentioned in the House during the 2014 Budget Debate we will not recognize a new National Hero in 2014. National Heroes Day was first celebrated on October 13, 2008, but the holiday was moved to the Queen's Birthday Holiday on 2009 after Government amended the Public Holidays Act. At that time, then-Minister of Culture Neletha Butterfield said a panel of five people, comprised of MPs and Senators, would decide who deserves the title of National Hero based on pre-selected criteria. According to the criteria, the candidates must have made a significant and lasting contribution to Bermuda; enriched the lives of others; contributed to the quality of life and destiny of Bermuda; been considered outstanding in their area of activity; have name recognition among the general population; been recognised by his or her profession or organization; been reflective of Bermudas cultural heritage or diversity;  and must possess a legacy which will stand the test of time and have continued relevance in the future.

2012. June 18. Slave and champion of the abolitionist movement, Mary Prince was recognized as Bermuda’s 2012 national hero. The public event includes music, dance, and spoken word performances. The History of Mary Prince. This edition was published February 1, 2001 by Penguin Classics. In 1831, it was the first narrative of a black woman to be published in Britain. It describes Prince's sufferings as a slave in Bermuda where she was born and flogged, Turks Island and Antigua, and her eventual arrival in London with her brutal owner Mr Wood in 1828. Prince escaped from him and sought assistance from the Anti-Slavery Society, where she dictated her remarkable story to Susanna Strickland (later Moodie). Mary Prince, the daughter of two slaves, was born in 1788 at Brackish Pond in Devonshire, now known as Devonshire Marsh. Her mother was owned by Charles Myners, but when Mr Myners died later that year, both Mary and her mother were sold to Captain Darrell, who gave Mary to his granddaughter Betsey Williams where she served as a playmate and nurse. At the age of 12, she was sold for 38 pounds to Captain John Ingham of Spanish Point, where she was repeatedly beaten and flogged by Mrs Ingham. After suffering permanent injuries to her back by her beatings she ran away, only be returned to her master by her father. In 1806, she was sold to a Mr Dill, who sent her to work in the salt pans in the Turks and Caicos for ten years. She returned to Bermuda in 1816 and was sold again in 1818 to John Adams Wood for $300 and sent to Antigua to work as a slave. In Antigua, she met and married Daniel James, a former slave who bought his freedom, but when her master heard about the nuptials she was severely beaten. In 1828, Wood and his family took Mary to London to work as a servant, but Mary again ran away and met Thomas Pringle, an abolitionist writer and secretary to the Anti-Slavery Society. She was encouraged to write her memoirs, and in 1931 The History of Mary Prince was published, detailing her life as a slave in Bermuda and the British Caribbean. Her story was the first account of the life of a black woman to be published in the United Kingdom, and helped to galvanize the anti-slavery movement. 

2012 National Heroine Mary Prince

2012. National Hero Mary Prince

2011 Bermudian National Heroes were honored on Sunday, June 19, 2011 at the Show Ring of the Botanical Gardens. They were Dr Edgar Fitzgerald Gordon, Sir Henry James Tucker and Dr Roosevelt Brown. Sir Henry Tucker - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Tucker_(Bermudian_politician) - formed and led the United Bermuda Party (UBP) into Government and was Premier of Bermuda for many years. Dr. Edgar Fitzgerald Gordon formed the Bermuda Industrial Union in 1942 and led it for many years, through a very controversial history. Three books have been written about him by Bermudian authors. Roosevelt Brown became known to most in Bermuda as the architect of Universal Adult Suffrage in Bermuda. He was a former PLP MP and Progressive Labour Party Education Officer. He wrote Me One, his autobiography under the name of Pauulu Roosevelt Osiris Nelson Browne Kamarakafego. Wesley Leroy Tucker was another leader in the adult suffrage movement. Entertainment included performances specifically in honour of these three new National Heroes. There was involvement from uniformed youth groups, schools and the Bermuda Regiment.

2010. For the third consecutive year the late Dame Lois Browne Evans (see photo below) was Bermuda's Public Hero. 

2009. Government decided to move National Heroes Day to June, but instead of holding it on the second Monday of June when the Queen's Birthday used to be observed as a Bermuda Public Holiday they chose the third Monday of June.

October 13, 2008. First such public holiday under this name, for local heroes and heroines. 2009 and 2008 honored Dame Lois Browne Evans, who died in 2007. She produced many firsts including becoming Bermuda's first female lawyer, the first black woman elected to Parliament, the first female Attorney General,  first leader of the Opposition and a fiercely outspoken leading member of the Progressive Labour Party (PLP) all her life. Not only did she break Bermuda's records she also became the first female Opposition leader in the Commonwealth. Future national heroes could include former slave Mary Prince, who was the first black woman to publish a book about her experience.  The book was significant in the UK abolition movement.  In the run up to the 2007 election then-Premier Ewart Brown announced at a PLP rally his Government would set aside a day to honour Dame Lois. That September it was announced May 24, Bermuda Day, would become National Heroes Day and Dame Lois would be the first recipient. 

Dame Lois Browne Evans

In 2008 Government then moved it to October and axed what until then had been the official June Queen's Birthday public holiday. The date coincided with the first day of the PGA Grand Slam. That too was opposed by the public, some who complained of missing a holiday during the summer months while others said it was disrespectful towards Bermuda's monarch. However, many Bermudians have expressed the desire to continue to observe it and a Queen's Birthday Parade is still held on the previous Saturday.. 

Queen's Official Birthday Parade. Front Street, Hamilton. Begins at 10am, members of the public encouraged to attend. Bermuda Regiment and other entities salute her. Traffic restrictions apply. The Governor of Bermuda will take the salute on behalf of the Queen. Premier and other invited dignitaries attend. Involves two guards of the Bermuda Regiment along with single guards of the Bermuda Police Service, Bermuda Sea Cadets and Bermuda Cadet Corps.

From London. Trooping the Colour. Celebrates the Sovereign's, Her Majesty the Queen's, official birthday (her actual birthday is on 21 April). (It has traditionally been held in June, for better weather). Televised worldwide by the BBC London. The ceremony dates back to at least the early 18th century when the colours (flags) of the battalion were carried (or 'trooped') down the ranks so that they could be seen and recognized by the soldiers. The Queen attends in a horse-drawn carriage and the regiments of the Household Division, her personal troops, parade in front of her. Over 1400 soldiers are on parade, plus 200 horses and over 400 musicians. HM The Queen’s Birthday Parade is at 1030 hours on Horse Guards Parade. The Colour will be Trooped by the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards. A 41 Gun Royal Salute will be fired by the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery in Green Park at 1252 hours and 62 Guns by the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) at Gun Wharf at the Tower of London at 1300 hours. 

2016. Thursday, July 28 Emancipation Day & Friday July 29  Somers Day (both Cup Match), 2-day holiday

Cup MatchThis first day of the two-day Cup Match holiday is named to commemorate the most important modern events in Bermuda's 400+ year-old history.

They are held by tradition on the two consecutive days of (a) Emancipation Day (see below) and Somers Day. These two days are, by Bermuda statute, always on the Thursday preceding the first Monday in August and the Friday preceding the first Monday in August. For many Bermudians, locals and visitors who do not have to work on a Saturday or Sunday this amounts to a 4-day public holiday long weekend.

This Public Holiday commemorates the uniquely emotional, cultural, historic and racial day of August 1, 1834 when under British laws that then extended to all British colonies, dominions and islands, with Britons themselves in the UK having been freed since 1772, the Slavery Abolition Act was enacted locally under British legislative pressure with due notice having long been given, to free the Island's slaves. In Bermuda, 4.000 persons, until then slaves, became free.  They and other former slaves who had already been freed from that moment on, gained equal legal status to whites. That momentous day is mostly celebrated with the annual cricket Cup Match classic between St. George's and Somerset, two prominent local cricket teams. It follows a tradition that first started on August 8, 1872. The Bermuda Cricket Club had earlier been founded in St. George's ( in 1845) and played its first cricket game against the-then British Army garrison in Bermuda.  Long before cricket became the hugely popular sport it is today, a match played between the fleet team of the resident Royal Navy base and the British Army garrison regimental team was a major event in the social calendar of the Town of St. George.  This sport was first brought to Bermuda in the 1840s by British Army soldiers stationed here. Cricket is a British game that originated in England centuries ago. It is not unique to Bermuda. It is popular throughout the British Commonwealth of Nations. Its local season is from late April to late September. In 1872, British cricket thus arrived for local civilians. For many years until 1902, the unofficial festive game was between two fraternal lodges on opposite sides of Bermuda - in Somerset in the west end and St. George's on the east end.  The festive game began officially in July 1902 between the Somerset Cricket Club in the west end and the St. George's Cricket Club in the east end. Venues of the game change yearly between both clubs.  Most recent (2015) winner is the Somerset Cricket Club.

Today, among the cricket-loving nations and territories of the world, only in Bermuda does the whole of Bermuda grind to a complete halt for two days every summer to turn its attention to a cricket game. On Cup Match days, many Bermudians either go physically to the game or listen to it on the radio. Because the popularity of the festive  annual game caused continued absences from employment the 2-day public holiday was first introduced in 1947 and has been in effect ever since. 

Since 1999, a celebration of emancipation is now part of the ritual of the first day of Cup Match, formally renamed Emancipation Day. 

It is a very busy time for camping and picnicking at public (Government) parks or beaches or both. The designated campgrounds are Ferry Point, Coney Island and Chaplin Bay but all public parks and beaches are liable to be invaded by persons pitching tents from two days beforehand and until the Sunday evening after Cup Match. It can be very disconcerting for tourists who hope in vain for deserted public beaches and who are not used to seeing campers pitching tents so close to public beaches. They simply would not be allowed in their own countries. Nor would the trash so many locals leave near their tents.

Crown and Anchor at Cup Match

Crown and Anchor gaming at Cup Match, Royal Gazette photo

Whichever team hosts the annual game accepts tenders for the gambling game of Crown and Anchor (see above), one of the many "concessionary" events, open gambling, operators of which pay Government a hefty license fee. It is also an occasion for off-beat mid-summer peculiarities that include awarding a winning batsman with tax-free cash; the wearing of outlandish fashions, much socializing, bands and musical groups participating, a carnival atmosphere complete with calypso, reggae, soca, rap and other music. The most avid fans stake out a place in a stand on the cricket field long before the match starts at 10 am. They come well prepared with umbrellas for shade and picnic hampers stocked with a day's supply of food and  drink.

2016. Friday, July 29. Somers Day

Referred to in history as the Father of Bermuda, Admiral Sir George Somers has the second day, Somers Day, of this  2-day public holiday named in his honor for his discovery of Bermuda which led to its settlement in 1609. For 2015 it was a very special 406th Anniversary commemoration of the single most important day in Bermuda's history.

2016. Monday, September 5, Labour Day

Bermuda annual Labour Day parade

Labour Day 2013

Bermuda annual Labour Day parade, bottom photo shows 2013 parade

It originally gave workers the chance to campaign for better working conditions or pay. The day is now part of a long weekend for many Bermudians, Americans, Canadians, etc. The Bermuda Industrial Union and other unions sponsor speeches, festivities, road races and games on this day. It took on additional importance after the victory of the labor government in Bermuda in November 1998 (until 17 December 2012), and the heavy aggressive unionization since the 1940s of most of Bermuda. It's also a convenient excuse for a three-day weekend.

2016. Friday, November 11, Remembrance Day

2016. Christmas Day, Sunday, December 25

Public Holiday Tuesday, December 27.

Every church has Christmas Day services.

Weather statistics

Possibly as high as... 75 degrees F. Water temperature 68 F
coldest, 1993 54 degrees F or 12 C


Bermuda SantaAlthough Bermuda is regarded as British in so many ways by the 95 percent of visitors who are from  the USA, Britons and Canadians regard it as more American than British and this is reflected in the way Christmas is spent in Bermuda. Santa Claus, not Father Christmas or Saint Nicholas (the patron saint of Russia), is the term used by nearly everyone locally. 

In cuisine, religions, customs, music and celebrations, Bermuda has Yuletide traditions from the United Kingdom, United States and Canada. Christmas Greetings come annually from the Governor, Premier, Leader of the Opposition,  Bishop of Bermuda, Bishop of Hamilton in Bermuda and other dignitaries. Many individuals and stores publish theirs. 

Local Christmas events and cable TV shows are common. Christmas music events are numerous. Churches offer special Nativity tidings. Most Christmas presents are from the USA. Christmas dinners for families, friends and extended families are often merry and extravagant. Local seasonal foods like cassava pie are made in quantity. They are usually served with (imported) turkey. Birds such as turkey - goose in England until the dawn of the 20th century - are no longer stuffed with "farce" as they were in the Middle Ages in England. 

There are ornaments, trees, pantomime and the famous The Royal Gazette short story writing contest (see below). For many years there was also a Festival of Lights. It was discontinued in 2008 as a lovely Christmas-time tradition due to economic conditions and the high price of fuel. Until then it was sponsored for many years by The Bermuda Electric Light Company, the only electricity service, which awarded prizes. Some Bermuda homes were dazzling.

Bermuda Santa Photo.

The annual Dr Stanley Ratteray Memorial Christmas Short Story Contest. For over 55 years, Bermuda's national daily newspaper The Royal Gazette has an annual, very popular, Christmas Short Story, now renamed The Dr Stanley Ratteray Memorial Short Story, in honour of Bermudian cultural icon the late Dr Stanley Ratteray, a dentist by profession and Bermuda's first Education Minister. Renowned for his passion for the arts and culture in Bermuda, he was one of the founders of the Bermuda Arts Council, the Bermuda National Trust and the Menuhin Foundation and served as chairman of the Bermuda Musical and Dramatic Society for several years. The annual writing, not digitized, competition is a longstanding seasonal tradition, one which dates back more than 50 years now. It has encouraged literally thousands of Bermuda residents to exercise their creativity, imagination and writing skills around the infinitely flexible subject of a Bermuda Christmas. Every year it produces some first-rate entries covering the widest imaginable range of styles, genres and themes. It is open to all Bermudians or current residents of Bermuda and stories may be fiction or non-fiction. The annual deadline is by the first week in December. Entries must be typed and should not exceed 1,500 words. Cash prizes are presented in three categories, under -13s, under-18s and adults. There is a first prize for winners, plus those with exceptional promise regardless of category and certificates for honorable mentions. Winning entries are published in the Royal Gazette's printed Christmas Eve Greetings Supplement. Each year the judges look for vivid local Christmas themes and local references, content, correct spelling, correct grammar and punctuation.  Judges prefer entries from students to be free of violence as Christmas is a time of peace. Manuscripts must be submitted to The Royal Gazette clearly marked, “Christmas Short Story Contest”. Manuscripts may be submitted by hand in the drop-off box in the lobby of The Royal Gazette, by mail to "Christmas Short Story Contest", The Royal Gazette, PO Box HM1025, Hamilton HM DX, or by e-mail to the specific email address given. If e-mailed, attach your contact details to the actual story; don’t just put them in the body of the e-mail. The full name, address and telephone number of the author must always be given, irrespective of how sent. Teachers should make sure the name, age of the student and contact number of their parents is included on every entry. Judges may contact the winners during late evening when schools are closed. The e-mail address of parents would also be helpful. These details will be kept confidential. Pen names will not be accepted. Please, no poetry.  Pen names will not be accepted. Stories received after the deadline are not considered. A panel of judges decide the winning entries. Due to the high volume of submissions, The Royal Gazette staff cannot respond to telephone or e-mail inquiries once an entry is submitted. The Royal Gazette reserves the right to publish any or all of the stories submitted.

Santa again Angel flying

Christmas Boat Parade

Last was this December 2015, next is December 2017. The Island's top spectator event of the year, the Christmas Boat Parade, treats 20,000 viewers to a stunning illuminated boats and fireworks display. Some 50 boats participate in the biennial parade. It is amazing how creative they get, owners and crew go way out in decorating their boats. Front Street and Harbour Road teem with spectators. At 8.30pm, pyrotechnics launched from White's Island light up the skies. 19 categories of boats ensure everybody wins something for taking part. In top place are Best Commercial boat, Best Sailboat, Best Non-profit, Best Powerboat under 25ft  and over 25 feet, Best Bermuda Themed, Best Community Message, Most Original, Cedar, Best Traditional Christmas, Best Contemporary, Best Crew Costumes, Most Confusing, Best Use of Lights, Best Music, Pink Category, Most Fun to be Aboard, Children's Choice.

Christmas Boat Parade

Christmas Boat Parade

Christmas foods

Experience and enjoy British locally made or mostly imported seasonal foods like:

Christmas pudding

Christmas pudding

Mince pies

Mince pies

Christmas Carol Music Favourites

Christmas Crackers

Note  these wonderful, festive, typically British table side ornaments, also seen in Canada but hardly at all in the USA. All are imported to Bermuda from England. They pop with a snap when opened by two people and have some small enclosure, plus a festive, colored paper hat. They were invented in the mid 1840s by London pastry cook Tom Smith after seeing the French custom of wrapping sweets (candies) in twists of colored paper. They became popular when Smith put a snapper inside which made them go bang when pulled. There is still a Tom Smith brand of Christmas crackers. There are other manufacturers too, at various prices. 

Christmas Trees

Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who married King George III in 1761, is reputed to have been the first person in England to decorate small fir trees at Christmas-time with lit tapers, almonds, raisins and wax dolls. A keen botanist and garden-maker, Charlotte rekindled the Yuletide customs of her own childhood to entertain and amuse her 13 surviving children. Queen Victoria, Charlotte's niece, was already familiar with the tradition when she married Prince Albert. The prince remarked that their children's "delight in the Christmas trees is not less than ours used to be". Presumably the prince was still potty about Christmas trees himself because he imported many thousands of firs from his native Saxe-Coburg, to transform Deeside's (Aberdeenshire, Scotland) heathery hills into Wagnerian forest around the castle of Balmoral.

The custom of bringing ever-greenery indoors is a good deal older than the Victorian age, connected as it is to the pagan feast of Saturn in the dark days leading to the winter solstice. Before central heating was the norm, fir trees and wreaths brought indoors could survive perfectly well through the festive season. Now, although there is a huge array of spruces, pines and firs available to the discerning tree buyer, keeping foliage wedded to branches through the holiday presents a problem.
After buying, keep the fir tree outdoors for as long as possible because the cold and damp air will help preserve the foliage, and stand the bottom in some water. Trees bundled in string or netting can stay wrapped until brought indoors, to reduce the moisture loss from the leaves. It does not matter if your Christmas tree is pot grown, bare root or a cut tree, make sure it is watered well to ensure it stays looking good. It is amazing how much water a small cut tree will absorb each day. If well cared for, a root-balled or pot-grown tree will stand a good chance of survival if planted out after Christmas but, remember, it could grow into a substantial tree. Spruce and other Christmas trees are shipped in, from Canada, Vermont and North Carolina, USA. Most importers have made arrangements to have their Christmas trees pre-inspected by local environment authorities - in this case the Plant Protection Laboratory of the Bermuda Government - in their country of origin. They are inspected because in 1991 a new pest, the pine needle scale (Chionaspis pinifoliae) was discovered on trees shipped to Bermuda from Canada. It is a good policy but has added to the cost of trees. They are cut and shipped in late November and arrive from the first week in December onwards. To test for freshness when being considered for purchase, bend one of the needles. If it snaps cleanly when bent between your fingers, the tree is fresh. If it bends without snapping, the tree is not fresh and will lose its needles quickly no matter how much it is watered. Over 98% of all Christmas trees imported into Bermuda (none are grown locally) are firs. There are three types of trees from which to select. The vast majority are Balsam firs (Abies balsamea). The Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) are also popular, mostly from North Carolina. The Douglas fir (Psuedosuga menziesii) is not related to the true firs. There are no "pick your own tree and get it cut to size" places but there are quite a few outlets, some operated by companies or entities, other by individuals. Faux trees - artificial - can also be bought. 

In Bermuda, Christmas trees are always imported from Canada or the USA. In December 2011 in Bermuda the average price is $100 or higher or a nice-sized (seven feet or higher) Fraser fir or Quebec balsam, with prices starting at around $68 for the four to six-feet high trees.

In Britain, from where most of Bermuda's Christmas Tree customs (but not the trees!) originate, the usual Christmas tree is the Norway Spruce. Other favorites are the Scots Pine; Lodgepole Pine (long needles); Noble and Nordmann (or Caucasian) Fir; Douglas Fir; Blue Spruce and Serbian Spruce. Firs and Pines hold their needles better than spruce. 

Also in Bermuda, there's a British style Christmas pantomime, very much a part of the Christmas tradition. It is always a sell-out. Based on the UK pantomime tradition, it has a plot, jokes, political asides, costumes galore and fun. As British as roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, the annual slapstick and interactive pantomime production has become a longstanding tradition in Bermuda as well.

2016. Boxing Day, Monday, December 26

A public holiday in Bermuda, as in Britain. It originates from the old days in England when, to compensate their servants for working extra hard in the preparation of extravagant, all day Christmas Day feasts, members of the aristocracy and gentry were inclined to reward the former with "boxes" of game from their estates, or goodies, as well as the day off. In more recent times, it became the day for small gifts for those who deliver the mail and newspapers. Locally, Boxing Day is an occasion for giving to the less fortunate and finishing off the local cassava pie, turkey and other Christmas eats, family gatherings, social drinking and relaxing. Also, the Gombeys dance. They have been part of Bermudian life since the eighteenth century. The word Gombey comes from the African Bantu language and means both rhythm and drum. Noteworthy  and quoteworthy are the books "The Bermuda Gombey; Bermuda's Unique Dance Heritage" by Louise A. Jackson and "Bermuda: Traditions and Tastes" by Judith Watson.

There are also Boxing Day sporting events. 

2017, New Year's Day, January 1

Many locals and visitors celebrate the night before - New Year's Eve - at one of the local hotels or restaurants. New Year's Day, the day chosen by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 when he established the 365 day calendar, marked the start of the year as the time when the Earth is closest to the Sun and established the Gregorian Calendar uses today - has festive events island wide. Her Majesty the Queen's local New Year's Honours, often mentioned earlier, are officially announced, as recommended, often for political reasons, by the Bermuda Government of the day. Periodically, a Knighthood is awarded locally, or a Companion of the British Empire (CBE), or Order of the British Empire (OBE). These more prestigious awards go to serving or retired Bermuda Government legislators or civil servants.

2017. Good Friday, April 14 leading to Easter Sunday 3 day holiday

Kite in Bermuda 2013

Bermuda kite

Bigger Bermuda kite

Different Bermuda kites

Bermuda kiteFor most Bermudians, Good Friday traditions mean church, flying Bermuda made kites, and eating codfish cakes - see below - and English style hot cross buns - also shown below. Flying kites - although not on Good Friday - originated in Indonesia 3,000 years ago. There, fishermen used leaf kites to suspend fishing lines out to sea. Indonesian children still skillfully fly bits of waste paper on strings. Kite-flying drifted up through Asia and arrived in Europe early in the 16th century. Much later, it reached Bermuda. British Army troops used them to plan telegraph poles in Bermuda, the Caribbean and other colonial outposts and they were later used to good effect by the British Army to plan telegraph poles in South Africa for the Boer Wars. In Britain, the years 1880 to 1930 were considered the golden age of British kiting. In the 1880's they became even more useful for UK-wide military reconnaissance and meteorology. Huge flying frames carrying weighty cameras were a common sight over trenches in Europe in the First World War. In California, camera kites were used to photograph the devastation caused by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Right: A uniquely made Bermuda kite. Elsewhere overseas, in India, the kite fighting season can be dangerous. Hundreds of thousands of people fly their fighting kites from roof tops. They coat their kite strings with glass and try to cut their opponents' kite strings. In Britain today, the High Force Kite Festival occurs in August. Kites require Civil Aviation Authority to fly at 1,500 feet or higher. Clearly then, they are not just toys for children. Some are massive, three-dimensional things.

There is said to be a special Bermuda civilian religious significance to kite flying. It started on Good Friday when a local teacher with a British Army connection had difficulty explaining Christ's Ascension to Heaven to his Sunday School class. So he launched a kite with a likeness of Christ. A traditional Bermuda made kite, from different colors of tissue paper, is still in the shape of a cross. Originally, kites were not flown until after 3 pm. Now, they stay up all day. Only if it rains do they come down. Bermuda kites have long cloth tails and are in different colors of paper tissue, wood, metal and string. Some are huge, in exquisite patterns, requiring several men to get aloft. Some are deliberately made to emit a humming or buzzing sound, with a hummer made from glued paper, which spoils their spiritual serenity. The hummer is always made with purple tissue paper because it is said to be louder. Another variation of the Bermuda kite is the traditional Somerset brown paper kite. It is made of cross sticks with a hummer behind the head stick. 

Good Friday Kite flying at Horseshoe Bay often includes a non denominational religious service; live musical entertainment; children's games; kite competition and judging; locals versus tourists tug of war; live entertainment; Warwick Gombey Dancers.

Legend of the Bermuda Passion Flower

Another legend associated with the Easter holiday - although Easter Sunday itself is not a public holiday - is that of the passion flower, of which there is a unique Bermuda species (note its special coloring, so different from many other varieties).  A climbing vine insisting on a sheltered southern location and a great deal of care, it has five sepals or five identical petals. Spanish missionaries who first discovered the flower in South America stated the petals represented the disciples without Peter and Judas. The double row of colored filaments, known as the corona or crown, appear to show to some the halo around the head of Christ and to others the crown of thorns. The violet stamens and other parts of the flower show the wounds and nails Christ endured. The tendrils resemble the whips used to scourge Him and more areas of the flower recall the hands of the soldiers. Bermuda Passion flower photo below by author Keith A. Forbes

Bermuda Passionflower

Hot cross buns

British style, a direct import from the United Kingdom much favored in Bermuda. They are available from commercial bakeries or as home-made, sold or given away in batches by family matriarchs who love to make them from scratch. They are square-shaped sticky buns about 1.85 inches wide and 1.5 inches deep, with icing sugar applied to them in the shape of a cross. This signifies Christ's agony and death on the cross.  The religious aspect of this may not be well known beyond Britain and Ireland.

Bermuda Codfish Cakes

While these by themselves are not uniquely Bermudian, their development as a uniquely Bermudian dish, eaten with (preferably local) bananas is worthy of special note. The dish was once a Good Friday dish and Lenten dish. It was a major local factor in the former Christian (mostly Roman Catholic on Fridays but also Anglican on Good Friday) avoidance of meat. Lent has its moment of deepest anguish on Good Friday and ends with its happiest time on Easter Sunday, representing the Resurrection.  Nowadays, a Bermuda codfish breakfast is always a tradition on both Good Friday and Easter Sunday, but is not confined to those dates.

Some restaurants have the dish every week. In Bermuda, when made with care from imported salted codfish from Canada and given special local treatment, the dish is absolutely delicious! But there is a lot of work involved.

Bermuda Easter Lilies

Many Bermudians and others associate Easter lilies with Bermuda, and at one time the unique Bermuda variety were world famous. It is not generally known they did not come to Bermuda until the 1870s and then by accident instead of design.  A ship with a supply of bulbs limped in for emergency repairs and in the process, the bulbs got here too. The Bermuda grown variety usually open at Easter. But often, for many blossom and bloom before Easter. The he live flower lasts about 10 days. Some stems may have as many as 6 separate flowers. A local tradition is that a finest selection is always sent to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Bermuda lilies

Bermuda Easter lily photo by author Keith A. Forbes

Easter Sunday Sunrise Service

Many Bermudians and other residents celebrate the latter first with this service - of which there are several - at various locations throughout Bermuda. But one of the most notable is at Horseshoe Bay at dawn. Those who don't feel like getting up so early but are church-goers will find that their traditional Easter Sunday church service is enhanced by special flower arrangements in the church and more festive than usual choir music. Then, to make a family day more complete, there are Easter Egg hunts for children and more kite flying.

Bermuda Easter Parade  - ended generations ago

Sadly, the lovely old tradition of the Bermuda Easter Parade - unique in its kind and once famous throughout the world, which drew thousands of visitors to the island - has long disappeared. The last such parade was in the 1970s. The Parade itself was glorious, with a large number of very artistically created floats all covered with local flowers, especially Bermuda Easter Lilies. The floats represented major local agricultural, civic, gardening and other organizations, the Corporations and municipalities of the City of Hamilton & Town of St. George's, Bermuda Chamber of Commerce, plus many individuals. The floats were on bicycles, horses, automobiles and trucks. Notable features of this hugely popular parade for both locals and visitors were the creativity and originality of the floats parading through the streets of the city. The Junior Chamber of Commerce added a special touch with the selection, from among its members, of the most handsome or otherwise eligible bachelors to provide a princely escort, on a special float, for the crowned Queen of the Easter Parade. She was always a delectable young lady picked from the previous year's crop of American College attendees during the once hugely popular "College Week in Bermuda" festivities over Easter, when all the hotels and guest houses were completely full.

line drawing

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Last Updated: May 18, 2016.
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