Every city and small town in Cuba has its own festivities. Several holidays in the country began as a Christian tradition, and with time they turned into traditional fiestas. Some of them have lasted more than two hundred years, continuing its validity throughout the years. Typical music instruments, congas, comparsas and floats parades are often main attractions in this kind of festivity. In Cuba, these fiestas are sometimes called by different names, each one with singular features that make them unique.
Amongst the parrandas, exclusive to the central region, there are the ones of the towns Remedios, Camajuaní, Zulueta, Chambas, Punta Alegre and Guayos. You can find famous carnivals such as the ones of Santiago and Havana. The Parrandas of Remedios, the Carnival of Santiago de Cuba and the Charangas of Bejucal are the most important fiestas in Cuba. This three have been declared Cultural Heritage of the Nation. Here is a list of five traditional fiestas you can’t miss.
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Parrandas of Remedios
The Parrandas of Remedios is the oldest festivity in Cuba. It began when the priest of Remedios’parish church found a noisy way to encourage the parishioners going the midnight mass in the cold nights on the Christmas Eve of 1820. This annual procedure became a tradition and eventually turned into a popular fiesta: the Parrandas. The city is divided in two sides: San Salvador (the rooster) and El Carmen (the sparrowhawk). They compete for the best in the fireworks show, the carrozas (floats) and trabajos de plaza (metal scaffolding with a complex arrange of coloured light bulbs). There is a fierce rivalry between the two sides, but at the end, it turns out to be a friendly competition.
The inhabitants of Remedios literally live for the Parrandas. Several months before Christmas, the people turn into artisans, tailors, carpenters or electricians to make the festivities preparations. On December 24, locals and visitors gather at the main plaza to witness a spectacular performance starred by San Salvador and El Carmen. The biggest fireworks show in the country inundates the night sky, at the time that the trabajos de plaza floodlight with fanciful light variations. A peak moment at the small hours is when both teams try to convince the public about the most original float. Finally, there is only a winner: the people itself.
My hometown is Remedios, situated in Villa Clara province. It is the eighth village founded by the Spanish in Cuba.…
Carnival of Santiago de Cuba
One of the most attractive carnivals in the Caribbean zone. It takes place between the 21 and 28 of July mostly, coinciding always with the National Holiday on July 26. It is noted for its intensity, colour and human warmth. A feature of Santiago’s carnival is the influence of French-Haitians ancestors, which once settled the Easter region of Cuba. They celebrated the fiesta of “Mamarrachos”, direct precedent of the carnival in Santiago. This bicentenary events was also related to the processions honouring Santiago Apóstol, patron saint of the village.
Nowadays the carnival is a blend of traditions and modernity, highlighting the floats parades, congas santiagueras lines and comparsas, which show off amazing music and costumes inspired by the inherent African roots. An unmistakable sound is the one from the corneta china (Chinese cornet), always accompanied by the conga drums. Legendary comparsas are those from the neighbourhoods El Tivolí, Los Hoyos and Plaza de Marte. In the older neighbourhoods, these ensembles represent the heritage of the cabildos, guilds of African slaves who preserved their culture and religion.This event does not only restricts to a specific zone of Santiago, but the whole city.
Charangas of Bejucal
Another festivity involving two rivals, namely “La Ceiba de Plata” (Ceiba of Silver) and “La Espina de Oro” (Thorn of Gold). It is held on December 24, but it lasts until the New Year. Streets crowded with people and dancers to the rhythm of live music and loud speakers, enjoy this singular fiesta all night long. All ends with a magic moment, eagerly awaited for all and sundry. The great attraction in the Charangas is what is called as the sorpresa (surprise), which reveals both team’s original float, partially hidden from everyone’s sight. It is amazing watching how a rolling square box transforms and a luminescent and coloured installation raises several metres above the wheeled platform. Each show comes along with its own conga and fantastic dancers attired with allegorical costumes. It is funny to see the parade starred by the sarcastic and picturesque characters “la Macorina” (a man fancily dressed as a woman), “la culona” (fat bottomed woman) and many others, become as part of the popular imaginary.
San Juan Camagüeyano
This fiesta takes place in the city of Camagüey from the 24 to the 29 of June every year. Its origins go back to the 18th century in the once village Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe. The celebrations encompasses the main arteries of the city, also including the famous plazas of La Caridad, El Cristo and Ignacio Agramonte. The San Juan distinguishes for the traditional paseos (processions), which entertains with their typical colours along some of the main avenues. Several congas perform in this paseos, highlighting “La Arrolladora” (the sweeper), renowned for its distinctive drums and carnival energy.
Other attractions are the comparsas and the floats, all of them striving to win the prize for best spectacle in each speciality. The selection of the Estrella del Carnaval (the Carnival’s Star) and the Luceros (Bright Stars) is a lure who reveres the women’s beauty and grace. For those who fancy the typical cuisine, it would be nice to sample the Cuban ajiaco (traditional stew) in the middle of the streets. Everything finishes with the habitual symbolic funeral of San Pedro, the same day that it is celebrated the patron saint’s day.
Carnival of Havana
Havana has its carnival too. It is held in August two consecutive weekends. Without the radiant of the Santiago’s carnival, still remains as an inevitable fiesta, deeply rooted in the soul of habaneros. Several comparsas such as the famous “Guaracheros de Regla”, “La Jardinera” and “El Alacrán” dominates the streets and the Malecón Avenue in the warm evenings of summer. These dancing ensembles comes from within the heartiest neighbourhoods in Havana. Most important Cuban timba groups delight local and foreign dancers late in the night, mainly in the concerts held at “La Piragua”.Allegorical floats pass through the streets showing the best of Havana’s colours and dancing. Women wearing traditional outfit and men brandishing the faroles (standards resembling a streetlight) are pleasant to see. Some crews have gracious motifs, such as “Las Voluminosas” (ample body women) and the muñecones (men dressed as a big headed puppet), who have won the public’s affection. A jumble of sounds inundates the parade, and it’s impossible not to listen to the trumpets and percussion instruments of the congas. There is always a variety of gastronomic offers, including some classic dishes, street snacks and the cold keg beer. The great ambience of the Malecón, catchy rhythms and vivid colours of the people, make the Carnival of Havana a unique event in an already wonderful city.