Las Parrandas de Remedios: the Cuban Christmas

Christmas time, as we know it, is a time of peace and quiet. A time to gather and celebrate, to rest and reboot. But Christmas in Cuba is nothing but quiet. In fact, beginning with the 16th up to the 26th of December, Cubans embark on a rather explosive Christmas in what is possibly the Caribbean’s largest and oldest traditional fiesta: the parrandas de Remedios.

The customary carnival-like street party – the parrandas – date back from the 18th century, when legend has it that Father Francisco Vigil de Quiñones, priest at the Iglesia Mayor of San Juan Bautista de los Remedios, introduced it.

He was so concerned about the absence of worshippers at the Misa de Gallo (Midnight Mass) that he came up with the idea to encourage children to take to the streets to make as much noise as possible. Due to the deafening sound of whistles, horns and tin cans, people would have no other choice than to wake up and attend mass. This was in 1820. The surprising, raucous initiative has thus grown roots over the centuries into what is today the quintessential Cuban parranda that takes place every year in the town of Remedios.

Although the celebration has now extended to neighboring cities, nowhere in Cuba matches the opulence of the Remedios parranda. Like any respectable ceremony, the local residents spend several months ahead planning the most elaborate floats, the most alluring costumes and the maddest fireworks, only to be revealed on Noche Buena, on December 24th.

The ceremonial adopted ever since 1871 still stands today. Church bells announce the official start of the festivities, one in which two rival neighborhoods parade their biggest and brightest. The competition between the Carmelitas from El Carmen and the Sansaríes from the San Salvador begins with each one’s display of banners and signs, followed by a rivaling rumba.

What follows is not for the lighthearted. Think: Color! Explosion! Excitement! Flamboyance! Sound! An overload of senses takes over. Fireworks light the night away, as the floats, richly decorated and immersed in light, being their triumphant parade.

Floats are decorated each year according to pre-established themes. This year’s theme is Angels & Demons. 

Rumba dancing and congas fill the streets into the night, non-stop until the morning, all for a Christmas party to remember.

Recently awarded with the title of Cultural Heritage of Cuba, there is little surprise why Cubans all around the island nation, as well as from abroad, travel to the central province of Villa Clara for the annual Christmas extravaganza. Not one but thousands flock for the folkloric “battle,” one that is so formulaically fought with carriages and floats, trumpets and trombones, drums, whistles and horns, dances and fireworks.

Learn more at the Museum of Parrandas, open since 1980. Look over photos, documents and preserved hand made objects.

Guests on the Vintage Cuba tour have the rare chance to see how the floating structures come to life, on a visit to the Remedios factory, located in the province of Villa Clara.


Text and photos by Monica Suma. You can follow her on Twitter at @MonicaSuma