Events in Dominican Republic
New Year’s Eve — No place is more fun to be in the Caribbean than Santo Domingo on New Year’s Eve. Thousands of merrymakers gather along the Malecón (actually Av. George Washington) to celebrate the coming year. Along this sea-bordering boulevard, bands blast merengue and other music throughout the night. At midnight, fireworks explode and sirens go off. The party continues until daybreak.
New Year’s Day — The merrymaking continues on New Year’s Day in the town of Bayaguana, lying northeast of Santo Domingo. Here the annual Festivales del Santo Cristo de Bayaguana includes street dancing, singing, various folkloric activities, a procession through town, and the inevitable Mass.
Epifanía — Also called Día de los Santos Reyes, this nationwide event is celebrated throughout the Dominican Republic. Every town and village marks the end of the Christmas holidays. Santo Domingo has the most interesting observances, with processions through town starring the Three Wise Men. As they sleep, children are given gifts by their parents. January 6.
Día de Duarte — Juan Pablo Duarte is hailed as the father of the Dominican Republic. Duarte executed a bloodless coup against Haiti, asserting his country’s independence over their western neighbor. The date was February 27, 1844. Duarte’s birthday, on January 26, 1814, is celebrated with gun salutes in Santo Domingo. A Carnival is staged in such cities as Santiago, Samaná, San Pedro de Macorís, and La Romana. January 26.
Carnival — This is the biggest event on the Dominican calendar, and it’s widely celebrated preceding and including Independence Day, February 27, which often falls around Lent. In Santo Domingo, the big event is 2 or 3 days before February 27, but festivities range around the country in all the towns and cities. Expect spectacular floats, flamboyantly costumed performers, and lots of street dancing, rum drinking, and street food. The masks worn by the participants symbolize good and evil. Some 30,000 merrymakers parade along the Malecón in Santo Domingo.
Semana Santa — This observance of Holy Week hardly rivals Seville’s in Spain, but it’s the best in the Western Hemisphere. The week surrounding Easter is marked by island-wide pageants, processions, and celebrations. Many towns and cities burn in effigy a grotesque representation of Judas Iscariot.
Espíritu Santo — The island’s African heritage is much in evidence during this observance. Although an island-wide event, the most intriguing celebrations take place in the town of Villa Mella near Santo Domingo. The festivities are marked by the playing of African instruments such as Congo drums. First or second week of June.
Festival del Merengue — Slightly less raucous than Carnival, a blast of merengue music fills the night along the Malecón in Santo Domingo the last week of July. Festivities continue into the first week of August, coinciding with the observance of the founding of Santo Domingo on August 4, 1496. Artisan fairs are just part of the agenda, along with a gastronomic festival, but it is the live merengue music that attracts participants by the thousands. The world’s top merengue musicians and dancers attend this wildly crazed event.
Fiesta Patria de la Restauración — Restoration Day is celebrated on August 16 island-wide, commemorating the regaining of Dominican Republic independence from Spain in 1863. Parades, live music, street fairs, and other events reach their crescendo in the two main cities of Santo Domingo and Santiago.
Puerto Plata Festival — Like the Merengue Festival, this is the major cultural event on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, a weeklong festival that brings the best of bands — merengue, blues, jazz, and folk concerts — to Fuerte San Felipe at the end of the Malecón. Troupes from all over the island come here to perform traditional songs and dances, along with salsa, merengue steps, and African spirituals. Expect parades, costumes, and food fairs. In October, but dates vary.
Descubrimiento de América — The so-called “discovery” by Columbus of America on October 12, 1492, is no longer celebrated as a grand event in many parts of the Western Hemisphere. The explorer’s arrival on an already inhabited continent brought death, destruction, and disease to much of the Caribbean. But because of the D.R.’s strong link to Spain, the festivities in Santo Domingo continue, and reach their peak with celebrations at the tomb of the explorer at Faro a Colón and at the Cathedral of Santo Domingo.