What Is Missed When Carnival Is Canceled: Sun, Joy, FreedomLoyal enthusiasts on what they missed in a year they needed Carnival the most.By Geneva Abdul, Pierre-Antoine Louis, Sandra E. Garcia and Sharine Taylor

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Credit…Flo Ngala

What Is Missed When Carnival Is Canceled: Sun, Joy, Freedom

Loyal enthusiasts on what they missed in a year they needed Carnival the most.

Geneva Abdul, Pierre-Antoine Louis, Sandra E. Garcia and

Booming music. Glittering costumes. And perhaps even more important: the feeling of being free.

After a year of racial reckonings, the celebration of Carnival — which provides a much-needed release for many revelers from London to New York to Toronto and beyond — was canceled.

“The loss of Carnival goes beyond costumes, music, liming [socializing] and physical contact,” said Ingrid Persaud, a Trinidad and Tobago-born writer who lives in Britain.

Would-be Carnival attendees said they missed the exuberance, the roti and pepper pot, singing along with others on the road and the very act of gathering.

As the singer Justine Skye, who usually participates in the West Indian Day Parade in Brooklyn, put it: “Honestly, that’s the one-time of the year I feel like anybody, doesn’t matter what shape, size, color you are, you just come together and you just let it all loose, and you just feel so confident within yourself.” Here’s what other Carnival enthusiasts missed because of the pandemic.

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Credit…Andre D. Wagner

I’ve been attending Carnival for over 30 years — Detroit, Chicago, Hamilton, Windsor, Toronto, Atlanta, Atlantic City, D.C., Baltimore, New York, Boston, Cambridge, Philly, Norfolk and grandfather of them all, Trinidad. In a world filled with so much struggle, Carnival is that one period of the year where love and kindness become the great equalizers among men. It has always provided me with a license to freely experience and enjoy the world with a true sense of wonder and excitement that is rarely experienced in adulthood. Carnival experience never fails to provide the sheer feeling of exuberance, laughter, freedom, enchantment, spiritual enlightenment, gratitude and an overall sense of contentment. — Kevin Jordan, 41, lawyer, New York


Credit…In Pictures Ltd./Corbis, via Getty Images

Carnival is reclaiming the streets. Carnival is doing everything that you’re not allowed to do. Carnival is joy, it’s celebration. Carnival is, I think, necessary, it’s a release valve, and it’s a good excuse for a small geographical community to get together. — Sam Alexander, 54, director of the Brazilian band Baque de Axe, London

Credit…Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos

The people have the streets, you party in the streets, you drink in the streets, you frolic, it’s the only time you can walk in the middle of the road, you can jump in the middle of the road, you can decide to sit in the middle of the road. [I miss] That freedom and that ability for people just to forget everything for that day. — Hasan De Four, 43, chef and restaurateur, London


Not being able to take to the road is a serious matter, at the core of Caribbean cultural expression. When West Indians throng through London’s W11 postcode, they are reclaiming a gentrified neighborhood they can no longer afford. Without carnival we can’t congregate as a community. Our pent-up desire to get away from the isolation of our everyday life is unlocked by carnival. Without it we have no outlet. — Ingrid Persaud, Trinidad and Tobago-born writer living in London


Credit…Flo Ngala

It’s obviously the people, you can’t replicate that. It’s a meeting place, people catch up if they haven’t seen each other sometimes for years. You’ll always bump into old school friends or work mates, family. I miss out not seeing people, and catching up and giving each other a hug and a high five and dancing in the street. Putting smiles on peoples faces, that’s what I miss. — Keith Franklin, 60, D.J., London

Credit…Ibrahem Hasan

I grew up in Ladbroke Grove where the carnival is. Every year I would go and enjoy the music with my family and friends. There was always a massive group of us who went together, and it was always a challenge to stick together and not get lost. You see so many people you know there and it’s such a celebratory time. Without a doubt it’s one of the best days of the year. — Rita Ora, 30, singer

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Credit…Andre D. Wagner

Carnival is about family, it’s about creating other families. Mahogany becomes a family. And when you’re making that costume on the morning and you see the band, that’s just another amazing moment as the band pulls off as you’ve dressed everyone. — Clary Salandy, costume designer and founder of Mahogany Carnival Arts


Credit…Flo Ngala

I miss the people. I can be in the crowd jumping to a song and somebody you don’t even know will come right next to you and jump with you and sing along. It’s such a bonding moment. — Melly Rose, 29, soca artist, Trinidad and Tobago

Credit…Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

To be on this road, with music playing and you really just being lost in that moment, among other people really chasing the same feeling. The strangers that are next to you — for that day, you guys are friends, singing the same lyrics to a song and dancing. — Vann Estrada, 34, human development consultant, New York



Credit…Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos

Getting dressed into these beautiful costumes and feeling so confident in yourself. Everyone’s dancing down the Parkway for hours and miles. My mom always tells me the story that when she was younger she went from the beginning of the parade all the way to the end, and by the time she made it to the end she collapsed because she couldn’t feel her legs anymore. — Justine Skye, 25, singer, Brooklyn

Credit…Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

There’s a whole routine for getting yourself together. From waking up at 3:30 in the morning for a makeup appointment to make sure you’re still holding on to that last piece of costume at 9 p.m. at night. We’re out there for a long time but it’s all part of it. — Denise de Rushe, 50, accountant, New York

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Credit…Andre D. Wagner

There’s so many intersections of us. We’re not just Caribbean. We’re not just Canadian. We’re not just Black. We’re also gay, trans, bi, pan, all of these different things. I feel like there also could be a lot of stigma toward those things in our community, and there aren’t a lot of places that we can just free up ourselves and be who we are without judgment or without physical harm taken toward us. It’s really nice to be able to create that space for everybody to love on ourselves. — Rebecca Tessier, event curator, Toronto


Credit…Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos

It’s the people, the flavors, the sight. It’s like an experience for every one of your senses. A sensory experience unparalleled. Everything is awake — from the sound of the people to the music to the way they dress to the gatherings to the food. It’s just an entire experience that’s amazing. Having all of that happen in such a condensed space, I miss that. — Nalo Lewis, 42, high school administrator, New York


I didn’t just throw on a costume. I made sure the nails were on point, I put together my boots to match the costume. There’s a word they have in Trinidad called “tabanca,” where you’re just pining away for something you’re missing, you’re sad. You start to have those feelings. It’s starting to happen now because we all thought by now, this virus, this pandemic would be over and we would just go right back into carnival. — Denise de Rushe


Credit…Piotr Redlinski for The New York Times

My favorite thing to do is eat doubles for breakfast. Nothing beats the experience of going to Maracas Bay and stopping at the lookout for all the sweet candies and different confectionaries, pickled fruits and eat a bake and shark on the beach with all the condiments. There’s like pineapple, chadon beni sauce and garlic sauce, all the hot and the sweet and the tangy and everything comes together really nicely in a bake and shark. — Nalo Lewis

Credit…Ibrahem Hasan

For me it’s just a great event where you see people of all ages, of all walks of life, all sexes, just kind of at ease with each other, smiling and enjoying themselves. It makes a bit of a change from daily life and it brings so much joy, not just over the weekend but to people in the build up and in sharing their memories and experiences of Carnival in the weeks that come after Carnival. — Matthew Phillip, 48, chief executive of Notting Hill Carnival, London


Carnival is like freedom, it’s like liberating. You put on your costume and you go out on the road and you hear happy music, and you’re next to your friends. Not having that experience right now, I feel like I’m falling into a slow depression. My work life is on hold and my social interaction with people, something that is very important isn’t even accessible. You’re outside you’re in the sun. You’re in beautiful colors. You’re with your friends next to you. You have a drink in your hand. You’re singing and jumping and cheering to music in the streets among people who you don’t know who become your friends just because they give you that smile, that hug, they put their arms around your shoulders and you jump together. It’s such an amazing experience. I’m talking about it and I’m getting goose bumps. It’s a moment. — Melly Rose


Credit…Gabriela Bhaskar for The New York Times

Caribana was my first experience with Carnival. Carnival has always been my safe space. Honestly, it’s been hard. I never realized my ability to be present was dependent on my ability to also escape. It really put a lot of things into perspective for me. Whether my first Carnival is going to be Caribana, if it’s Jamaica, if it’s another island, I know for a fact, the second I get off that plane, I’m going to cry. I know the first time I actually put on my costume, put my feathers on and put my gems on, I’m going to cry because it’s been a long time coming. — Sherise Rodney, health care worker, Toronto

Credit…Reece T. Williams

When there’s a complete unity, when you drop a tune and the whole street responds or you play something and the whole street is singing along, you can lower the music and the whole street’s in harmony singing. There’ve been times when it’s been pouring with rain, and people have still not left and then a rainbow appears at the end, it’s those kinds of moments that are really magical. — Keith Franklin


I just miss seeing the joy of when people hear that song, there’s something about, you never know what’s going to be the biggest tune of the year. Carnival really sets the bench, for me anyway, in terms of popular music, who is the star, what tune did it. That’s what I miss this year — just seeing the crowd go ‘waaa’, people dancing and singing all the words. — Linett Kamala, 50, D.J. for the Notting Hill Carnival sound system Disya Generation


Credit…Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos

Carnival to me is so important, it means that we are able to continue to celebrate the plight and sacrifices and the achievements of our ancestors. It all started in the Caribbean with the emancipation of slavery. And it has now evolved and developed in many different ways, and I think it’s very, very important for us to acknowledge that and to uphold the legacy, because it paves the way for our development, our future. — Allyson Williams, 73, co-founder of the band Genesis and board member of Notting Hill Carnival, London


When we came to England in the early days we didn’t have this opportunity. There was not as many Caribbean people here in London, and the history of Notting Hill Gate was fundamentally — we were in the ghetto at that time, deprived area, terrible accommodation, racism. We have a voice now, but that voice is also very fragile. We started this carnival committee in 1968. When we had the space it was a sort of revolutionary thing. I came up to England with the first steel band that won the music festival, and we all stayed here. That’s why we had this connection with establishing carnival. In those days, discrimination was all around. Getting a house in Notting Hill Gate, getting an apartment or a room, we were facing severe challenges, like saying it was “no Irish, no dogs, no Blacks.” We went through all of this. Now we have more legacy for the younger generation, and we try to inculcate in them they should follow through. It’s their time now to take things over and move on. — Sonny Blacks, producer and director of the Caribbean Carnival Extravaganza and part of the first Carnival committee in Notting Hill Gate in 1968

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Credit…Flo Ngala


Produced by Veronica Chambers, Marcelle Hopkins, Ruru Kuo, Antonio de Luca, Adam Sternbergh, Dodai Stewart and Amanda Webster.

Booming music. Glittering costumes. And perhaps even more important: the feeling of being free.

After a year of racial reckonings, the celebration of Carnival — which provides a much-needed release for many revelers from London to New York to Toronto and beyond — was canceled.

“The loss of Carnival goes beyond costumes, music, liming [socializing] and physical contact,” said Ingrid Persaud, a Trinidad and Tobago-born writer who lives in Britain.

Would-be Carnival attendees said they missed the exuberance, the roti and pepper pot, singing along with others on the road and the very act of gathering.

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