In Cuba, Remedios Suspends Popular December Celebrations / 14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez

Fireworks are a prominent part of multi-day December celebrations going back to the 1800’s in Remedios, Villa Clara, Cuba. (Flickr / Sergio Carreira)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 12 December 2016 — Havana has its carnivals, Bejucal has its brass bands, and Remedios has its parrandas,  Christmas season street festivals dating back to the 1800s. But this December, all end-of-year celebrations are suspended. Fidel Castro’s death has turned out the lights and shut off the loudspeakers of these festivities.

After nine days of national mourning, including a prohibition on alcohol and music, the Cuban government has also decreed that the local celebrations planned for the coming weeks will be canceled. In the center of the island, the Remedios parrandas are among the festivities most affected by the prohibition.

Considered the oldest festivals on the island, the Remedios parrandas mix the attraction of their ingenious floats with an impressive variety of fireworks. In addition, the old rivalry between two neighborhoods is played out in a battle of lights, music and wit that generate interest in the event.

After a whole year of preparation, Remedians have had to park their enthusiasm and put into storage the wide range of pyrotechnics planned for the occasion, including rockets, sparklers, fountains, firecrackers, Roman candles and others. This is not the time “to display joy in the streets,” Communist Party authorities told the festival’s organizers.

Although publicly the national mourning ended on 4 December, with the placement of Fidel Castro’s ashes in a mausoleum in Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, officialdom is intent on prolonging the austerity and is calling for an end of year marked by “tributes to the undisputed leader of the Revolution.”

The Remedios floats have been halted just when they were about to be set in motion. With their designs based on historic, literary, mythological or abstract themes, the compositions will have to wait twelve more months to be publicly displayed. The efforts of the “undercover agents” who try to uncover the other side’s “secrets,” have been absolutely fruitless this year.

In the town of Zulueta tradition has also been interrupted this December. Its parrandas are the last to be held in the country, not getting underway until 31 December. The two opposing sides, the Chivos (goats) of La Loma and the Sapos (toads) of El Guanijibes, will have to remain silent on San Silvester Day, waiting for time and oblivion to bury grief and sobriety.

Both towns in Villa Clara province are only a part of those affected by the austerity set off by the death of the former Cuban president. After his death was announced on 25 November, Cuba has not been the same in the cultural arena.

The centrally located Palacio de la Rumba, in Central Havana, has not opened its doors since the death of Castro. Its local programming remained suspended even on 30 November, the day UNESCO declared the Cuban rumba an intangible cultural heritage.

Administrators in Havana’s elementary schools have been advised that Teachers Day, 22 December, should not be celebrated with music. “There will be a morning assembly, a reading of some commitments, but no cake or dancing,” said Rosa, a teaching assistant at a school in Cerro.

Teachers Days are traditionally joyful in Cuban schools, with classes suspended, replaced by parties and, for the teachers, lots of presents. “It is our day,” the educator lamented to this newspaper. For her, the cancellation is bad news, “They’re taking away something we deserve,” she protests.

With the suspension of the Remedios parrandas and the parties for Teachers Day, Cubans are preparing for a discreet end of year, celebrated behind closed doors. “The party will be within us,” says Rosa.