“If it weren’t for winning the battle of St. George’s Caye, we’d be speaking Spanish,” said an immigration agent when I was coming back from a trip to Mexico one September 10. “Don’t you know today is St. George’s Caye?” (Belize is the only English-speaking country in Central America.)
On September 10, Belizeans celebrate their victory over Spain. This is also the day that also kick starts patriotic celebrations that last throughout the month, as September 21 is Belize Independence Day.
As you may know, Belize was considered a Spanish territory. However, Spain did not necessarily consider Belize valuable and never really got around to settling the area. In the meantime, the British not only settled in Belize, but took advantage of the areas prized logwood and mahogany and began harvesting and exporting it to Britain. Even though the Spanish had not settled the area, they did not approve of the British taking “their” natural resources. The Spanish made efforts over the years to try and settle in the area, but they did not have much success or resolve as they were more focused on all the other islands they owned in the Caribbean, at that time affectionately called the Spanish Lake, by Spain.
The Spanish made their final attempt in 1798 to settle Belize, but Britain sent a ship from Mexico filled with a motley group of Baymen (the term used to refer to local woodsmen), people from British-owned Jamaica, and pirates. This group fought alongside Belize’s diverse population. Everyone united against the more skilled and trained Spanish armada. The British won. A large part of St. George’s Caye Day is to celebrate the unity and pride of Belizeans, as they won despite the odds stacked against them and it is attributed to a diverse group coming together to defend off Spain.
Today, September is a month-long of celebrations. Belizeans have their red, shite, and blue patriotic decorations up by the beginning of the month and keep them up until the end. The culmination of activities is on the 21st, Independence Day. September 10 is an official holiday, and this year is celebrated on September 11 because the holiday falls on a Sunday—which in Belize means both Sunday and Monday are celebrated and banks and many businesses will be closed. Many Belizeans take off to get together and celebrate the nature of their country and make trips to their national parks.
In San Pedro, “the Battle of St. George’s Cayes Regatta” is held. There are many children’s’ activities like tug-a-war and bike races as well as live music performances from some of the best Belizean musicians. Food and drink stands are plentiful and the parties go late into the night, and many times until the sun rises.
For Independence Week, there is many parties, street festivals, and music. Many villages have small parades, where villages walk around waving flags, singing and dancing. While in Belize City, Carnival takes place, the decadent parades throughout the Caribbean. Participants practice and save money for months in anticipation of the elaborate costumes and performances.
The Tenth Day of September (Song) by Father Bernard Abeling
It was the 10th day of September
In ninety-eight Anno Domini
when our fore-fathers
won the glorious fight
at Old St. George’s Caye
Hip! Hip! Hurrah. Hip! Hip! Hurrah.
Then hail them – cheer them.
Let our grateful loyal hearts not fail them,
as we march and sing and shout in merry glee
The Battle of St. George’s Caye.
Hip! Hip! Hurrah. Hip! Hip! Hurrah.
Want to hear the song? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8r7YOJqe8U
This post was written for RideBZE.com by Leslie Sorrell, and posted with her permission.
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