The annual celebration of St. Croix’s culture and the winter holidays got off to a bumpy start, due to a pair of catastrophic storms. But some of the volunteers who help put on the 65th Crucian Christmas Festival say the fete is doing fine, in spite of the challenges.
Event organizers and leaders of parade troupes say they’ve worked through the loss of power and connectivity, shipping delays, structural damage and missing participants.
But they overcame, they said. Through hard work and teamwork, volunteers staged pageants for festival queen and princess, struck up the bands in the Festival Village, showcased costumes, music and dance at Culture Night and put the works in place for one of the highlights — the Food Fair. Images captured in the Village show thick crowds in high spirits at the foot of the music stage and crowds flocking to booths for food and drink.
The revelry of Crucian Christmas 2017-2018 reaches its highlights this weekend with the parade.
The first to take on the challenges left by Hurricanes Irma and Maria was Takia Antoine, chair of the Prince and Princess Committee. Because prince and princess is the first event of festival season, planning was in motion by the time Maria struck in mid September.
Perhaps the greatest stumbling block was destruction of the pageant venue, Island Center. One of the three hopefuls for princess left the island and one dropped out after losing her home.
“One of the girls, she lost her roof. She had to leave on a mercy flight,” Antoine said.
Shipping problems set in. The chairwoman said she dug into her pocket to make up shortfalls. The contest was moved to Festival Village. The show would go on.
But as last minute shipments reached the island on time there was one final hurdle, Antoine said. The crowns were too big.
Next up came the festival queen competition, where brand new committee chair Jason Gardener was on his first go ‘round. Gardener said Maria’s winds turned high hopes into deep doubts.
“The year started off great, with a lot of great ideas. We started off with six girls and after the hurricane, we ended up with three. I wasn’t sure it was going to happen,” he said.
Sponsors pulled back on their commitments. A seamstress scarcity left organizers wondering if costumes could be stitched in time.
But Antoine and Gardener said they and their teams were determined.
“We just picked up the pieces and moved on,” Antoine said.
They also go a boost from the one youth who cheerfully signed on as festival prince. Because there was no competition for the crown, Antoine said, the prince was ready from the start and spent his time getting ready to perform.
You should have seen him, she said.
Gardener said he relied on his off-island pageant experience. The remaining contestants went out to round up whatever sponsors they could. The committee reached out to costume designers abroad. The pre-pageant photo shoot, though late, took place.
In the end, the show went on.
“It was tough and a certain amount of struggle because there were a lot of cancellations. We had to cancel our presentation event. We had to postpone the photo shoot until November. Sponsors were pulling out. The girls were having a difficult time with fundraising and they pulled it off,” he said. “You have to have a lot of drive.”
Driven might be an apt description for St. Croix culture bearer Bradley Christian, organizer for not one, but two big events, back to back. By noon on New Year’s Day, Christian was wrapping up a deal to get the Festival’s Culture Night on stage in the village.
A good turnout, he said the next day in a brief interview, with hours to go for the next big deal, Festival Food Fair.
“I’m doing a head tie right now for the honoree,” he said. All while getting the venue set for 29 to 30 vendors of food, coquito, crafts and pastries to do their thing on Wednesday.
Will storm devastation keep the crowds away this year? Christian didn’t think so.
“People look forward to the traditional foods,” he said, the kind they don’t get year round.
The hardest part of Crucian Christmas Festival 2017-2018? Lumber.
“The challenge that we have is putting it together, getting the support you need. Getting the materials you need to work with, lumber to build booths and things like that,” Cristian said.
And with the 65th anniversary comes the 10th anniversary of the Simply Sophisticated Parade Troupe. Troupe leader Shomari Haynes expressed satisfaction with the efforts of troupe members working in the mas camp, completing costumes on time.
This, despite a loss of power after Maria that closed the camp for a month.
“Because we were set back a month, we were forced to come back and get straight to work,” Haynes said.
That meant less breaks, less chat time and hanging out. Because Simply Sophisticated does not import costume pieces, all detail work is done locally, the troupe leader said.
Lost connectivity also proved a challenge. Troupe members used social media to locate each other. Updates on how members made out through the storm, who left, who stayed, let organizers know they had to work fast to meet a smaller goal.
As a result, Haynes expects a costumed cast of 400 to go up the road for the troupe’s anniversary this weekend, instead of 600 expected before the hurricanes hit, but still a solid number.