December is traditionally a social season around the world with festivities-galore to celebrate the Christmas Season and the New Year. In Belize, it is a time when traditions are prevalent in the households and communities of the various cultural groups. In addition to the popularly known Jankunu and Charikanari dances enacted by the Garifuna during this time of the year, they also host another Christmas tradition known as the Grand Ball.
The Grand Ball is a century-old ballroom-style gala adapted from British tradition. Historically, it was a night when the upper class of British society would meet to socialize and celebrate the festive season wearing the latest European fashion. This tradition captivated the attention of other groups, such as the Creole and Garifuna, who formed social clubs and hosted their own Grand Ball. Today, it remains a local tradition dating back to the 1900s when six men in Dangriga Town formed the Young Men Sporting Association (YMSA) in 1914. The YMSA held its first Grand Ball that year. However, the YMSA and the Old Citizen Sporting Association still remain active today.
The gala event occurs in Garifuna communities such as Dangriga, Hopkins, and Georgetown. Participants of the ball must dress in formal attire. Ladies wear a long white dress and white shoes, and gentlemen wear black pants and a long sleeve white shirt with a black tie. One of the most unique experiences of the tradition is the survival of classical dances performed during the Grand Ball, such as the Lancer, Waltz, English Quadrille, Spanish Quadrille, and many others. They dance to a live performing band that uses the harmonica, guitar, and other percussion instruments. After many years, it has changed from how the older generations traditionally did it. With a small contribution to the Association, you can participate as a dancer at the gala.
The Grand Ball takes place this year on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve in Dangriga Town from 9 pm to 7 am by the historical Young Men Sporting Association and the Old Citizen Sporting Association. If you’re visiting Belize, bring in the new year by enjoying the gracious Grand Ball.
Photo Credit (row photos): Hopkins UnCut