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3 Most popular festivals in Cuba

Cuba is an islandcountry which is highlighted for its festivals. The favourable climate, beaches, colonial architecture and cultural history make it’s the best destination for tourists. During the festivals, the whole city turns into a party ground and is centred around the Cuban culture. The dance and music of their culture and the cuisine make it’s a must visit place for the tourist during the festive season. People usually dance under the stars to the rhythm of salsa and party together with friends, family and locals. The 3 most popular festivals in Cuba are:

Havana Carnival (August 18)

Havana carnival will be celebrated on 18th August 2019. It is usually celebrated on the weekends during July and August. It will be celebrating the 500th year of the country founding in 2019. The carnival was started during the Spanish colonial rule as an expression of the diversity of Cuban culture. In 1573 a group of people of different classes wearing costumes and maskparaded down the streetson foot, carriages and horseback. The carnival scenery had huge figures, streamers, decorated floats,fireworks and faroleros ( dancing men ). Havana and Santiago de Cuba are the most popular carnival cities. The festival is highly influenced by the island’s religious history and mix of Spanish and African heritage.

Visitors all over the world make their way to Cuba to enjoy the festival. The first carnival in Havana was held on 24 February 1895. In 1902 the first twentieth-century Carnival took place on the occasion of the initial year of the first president of Cuba. The Carnival flourished during the Cuban republican history period.During this era, when some new features were added the carnival-like the selection of a female character, the queen who ruled over the celebration. It was 1908 when two big groups of dancers were added to the carnival who danced in alinear manner in rhythmic step accompanying instruments.El Alacrán andLos Componedores de la Batea are the two dance groups. These groups came to be called as comparsas. These comparsas performances were like a play that told different stories through their dances and choreographies. Within a decade the number of comparsas began to increase. It was during this era when the carnival ball emerged.

It was after the Cuban revolution in 1959 when the festival was moved to the summer to met with the sugar harvest and other important historical dates. Open air dances under the sky replaced the carnival ball. Though the popularity of this carnival is not as that of Rio de Janeiro it has a rich history and the changes through which the island has gone. The Carnival brings some entertaining traditions like the huge effigies parade along the coastal road etc. It is a must-see festival for visitors who are in Cuba these days. There is also a special day which is dedicated to children. The Cuban culture and tradition are the main showcase of this festival.

Carnival of Santiago de Cuba (July 18)

The carnival of Santiago de Cuba will be celebrated from 18th July 2019 to 27 July 2019. It is the largest, most famous and the most traditional carnival of Cuba. It is celebrated in Santiago which is the second largest city of Cuba. Carnivals are festivals which are held before Lent in the month of February or March in most Roman Catholic societies. However, the Carnival of Santiago de Cuba is celebrated in the month of July. It is said that the Carnival emerged from the summer festivals which were known as Mamarrachos. These summer festivals were held on 24 June – St. John’s Day, 29 June – St. Peter’s Day, 24 July – St. Christine’s Day, 25 July – St. James the Apostle’s Day and 26 July – St. Anne’s Day.

However, these days have no link with the religion except St. James day who was Santiago de Cuba’s patron saint. The Colonial government make use of these dates for their convenience to carry out the style of celebration which was going on since the old days. The locals use these holidays to celebrate as their own. The Mamarrachos which were celebrated in the 1800s was more intense celebrations than the present day. The celebration may include throwing objects and liquids at other peoples, preparation of traditional foods such as jiaco, empanadas, omelettes, fritters etc., horse racing, paseo, bonfires, consuming alcohol etc. By the end of the 1800s, many practise died out such as the bonfires and horse racing.

The Carnival usually began as a religious event like other Cuban festivals. It became the right time for celebration for Santiago slaves who added dance, music and costumes to the festival. The carnival added elements of Spanish, French, African and Cuban tradition and culture. After the end of the sugar cane harvest, the Mamarrachos were held which runs from January to May. The unemployed sugar can workers forms the major group of people who participated in the festival. The Summer Carnival is basically for the enjoyment and rest for the labourers and was nicked named as Carnaval de las classes bajas.

The major highlights of the carnival are comparsas and the decorated float’s processions. The conga lines are the most famous part of the carnival. The strong rhythm of conga is the speciality of the Carnival. It is also said to be the commemoration of Santiago’s patron saint. Themamarrachos, muñecones and enmascaradosaccompanied by the parranderos line up the event with rattles,congas, catchy choruses, drums and cornetas chinas at the end of the procession. During the recent years, the Carnival has been extended up to open areas of the city where live music with salsa and son is performed by the most famous bands of the time. The Carnival offers visitors a chance to explore the nation’s history and culture. They can experience a variety of tradition and culture along with the feeling of oneness which the locals have.

Las Parradas De Remedios (December 16-26)

Las Parradas De Remedios is celebrated from 16th to 26thDecember every year. It takes place in Remedios which is the oldest city in Cuba. The festival dates back to 1820 whenFrancisco Vigil de Quiñones, a young priestfound that in the cold mornings of December the number of people gathered for religious worship was decreasing in strength. The reason was that people prefer to stay on their warm beds than going to church. So, he decided to change the views of the people and gathered a bunch of children and asked them to make noise as loud as they could. He told the children to use every instrument like tins full of pebbles,horns, maracas, pots etc. to make everyone attend the mass services starting from 16th and ending on the 26th of December. The plan worked and the churches began to be filled up. This led to the most popular festivities the Parrandas de Remedios to set off in Cuba.

This tradition became so successful that the government issued an order prohibiting the noisy parade before 4 am in 1835. The festival evolved adding some new features as the cacophony evolved into an orchestra with singers, guitars, harps, congas, claves and parrandas which is a small drum basically coated with the tanned goat hide. Over the next 150 years, a number of changes took place which leads to the inclusion of fireworks, music and art. The Christmas Eve is said to be the finale of the festive on which wild battle of firework displays. lights and artwork between two huge floats representing two different halves of the city. This competitive part of the festival comes from the19thcentury when the eight neighbourhoods of the town organised them into two rival groups namely El Carmen and San Salvador. The main event of the present-day festival on December 24 starts with the rival rumba between the two clans.

Presently the celebration has extended to the neighbouring cities including Guayos,Caibarién and Encrucijadaand also to the other cities of Cuba. The rival’s showdown is the major part of the festival and people spend several months making the rockets, elaborate floats,costumes and other stuff for the festival. The Christmas Eve celebration has been attracting visitors all over the world. The fireworks glowing in the night sky on Christmas Eve adding a phenomenal view to the festival.

To find more useful information, before you start your adventure in Cuba, can be found on the German website from Backpackertrail. Make sure to check it out!

List of major festivals and events of Cuba

  • January:

Festival de la Trova Longina

  • February:

Havana International Book Fair, Festival del Habano

  • March:

Memorial Guillermo Barreto Festival, Santiago Álvarez Memorial International Documentary Festival, Havana World Music Festival

  • April:

Gibara Low Budget Film Festival, Trinidad Cross Procession

  • May:

Havana Biennial, May Day Celebrations, Festival Internacional de Poesía

  • June:

International Ernest Hemingway Needlefish Tournament, Trinidad Carnival

  • July:

Festival del Caribe

  • August:

Festival Internacional de Rap

  • September:

Matamoros Son Festival, Havana Ballet Festival

  • October:

Festival Internacional de Coros

  • November:

Havana Theatre Festival, Havana Jo Jazz

  • December:

Havana Film Festival, Havana Jazz Festival