What would you expect to happen at a Caribbean Christmas celebration? Noise, fireworks and a street party, of course! Las Parrandas, the oldest festival in Cuba, originated in the city of Remedios in the early 19th century. These days it is a boisterous night of celebration known across the country, and replicated in many other Cuban towns.
However, the Las Parrandas de Remedios is still the original loud Christmas party. According to parable, the whole thing was started by a parish priest in 1820 who noticed diminishing nightly mass attendance numbers during the Christmas season. To remedy this, he sent groups of children out to various neighbourhoods where they attracted attention by banging pots and cans, blowing whistles and trumpets and generally creating huge volumes of noise with whatever object they could. Once people noticed them, they were urged by the kids to go to church.
These days the tradition has evolved into a more structured street party with various bands competing in who can play music the loudest, as well as a myriad of outdoor light shows, parades with extravagant floats, street dancing, and scores of chaotic fireworks. The festival starts gathering momentum as early as 16 December and culminates on Christmas Eve when the streets fill with people who dance until the early morning.
Two large Remedios neighbourhoods in particular are known for their fierce competition in who can make the most noise—the residents of San Salvador and El Carmen spend the better part of a year devising new ways of upstaging each other in noise and elaborateness. Over the years this ‘arms race’ has led to increasingly stunning excitement which probably makes Las Parrandas the most explosive Christmas celebration in the world.
Header image: adapted from Sergio Carreira, Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0