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Carnival in the Classroom

Michelle Reyes

On the first day of school, there is so much on my mind as I walk into my classroom with my students that I’ve forgotten about what hangs above my desk. For some, their reaction is immediate upon entry. Others take a few hours before they ask, “Whoa! What is that!? What’s it for?! Are we going to be learning about THAT this year? Did you make it? Are we going to make one? I can’t wait!” It’s the same reaction every year, whether it’s the ten-foot golden glittery snake with menacing eyes, the large white feathery tribal shields, or the vibrant pink portraits of a lost-love-inspired backpack. “Don’t worry, boys and girls. We’ll learn all about it later in the year during social studies, science, or maybe even art,” I reply. To think that what began as a sign of my “happy place” and a reminder of the summer that was and of who I am now serves to stimulate curiosity among my primary students. It’s a sign that learning in this classroom will be given a fun and meaningful context.

I was born in Trinidad and raised in Toronto. My summers provided prime exposure to the city’s Caribbean culture. As my parents visited friends and family making costumes for the annual Caribana parade in various mas (short for masquerade) camps, I’d be on the lookout for a pretty bead or feather. As they followed a music truck down University Avenue, I’d be sandwiched between my mom and dad until we met up with the moving works of art that were the finished costumes. The Civic Holiday weekend meant that the pulsating music that I only heard on tape, colourful costumes that I had only seen in pictures, and the thousands of Caribbean people that I had only seen in visits to Trinidad, would all come together to take over the streets from the business people in suits and the bustling sounds of traffic. Summer is always a change in routine for children, but my summers represented a cultural change while I learned about some Caribbean traditions.

Carnival festivities in Toronto began in 1967 when a group of immigrants from various Caribbean islands planned to celebrate Canada’s centenary by showcasing Caribbean culture as part of Canada’s cultural diversity. Each year’s events include a Children’s Parade, Calypso Monarch competitions, a steel pan competition, the King and Queen competition, and a picnic-style event. All are an experience in Caribbean culture as represented through food, drink, and the arts – music, dance, drama, and visual arts. The most prominent of these events is the Grand Parade, which is always held two days before the Monday Civic Holiday in August. However, the ideas and work begin many

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