Summer, sea-side and carnival all form part of a packet during the hottest months in Cuba, when many try to alleviate stifling temperatures with a cocktail of salt water and fiesta.
Carnivals, the nation´s most traditional mass celebrations, are held on coinciding dates during July and August in different regions of the country, although some – such as in the central province of Camaguey – are held a few weeks earlier.
Held during school holiday time with dedicated child carnivals, these festivals unite whole families undeterred by soaring temperatures. Some take work vacations to coincide with the festivities.
Because people often return to their hometowns to participate, carnivals also involve a significant element of displacement.
Although a European tradition in origin, they have –- above all because of a strong African influence on the celebrations -- taken on very distinctive traits in the Americas.
The first of these festivities in Cuba was related to the Catholic feasts of Corpus Christi and the Epiphany during colonial times. On these days slaves were rested and permitted to engage in rituals and traditional dances.
Grand processions were organized to honor their deities (a fusion of Catholic saints and African gods), which often culminated in a multi-colored conglomeration of people answering the call of beating bells and drums.
Street parades, a derivative of these processions and a showcase for the mix of Creole and African culture, later emerged and ultimately led to the music, dance, and costumes of the carnivals today that have not lost their essence.
Among the longest standing troupes on the island are El Alacrán (The Scorpion), la jardinera (The Lady Gardener) and Marquises of Atares.
Later came The Guaracheros of Regla and those of the Federation of University Students as well as The Giraldilla of Havana.
Converted now into popular celebrations, Franco Haitian, Asiatic, Hispanic and even North American elements add spice to the festivities.
Added to drums, trumpets and wooden boxes are Chinese bugles, lanterns, floats and costumes.
The most elaborate culmination of all these elements is to be found in the “Paseo,” a grand mobile performance in which neighborhoods display complex choreography in parades brought to a close by attractive floats.
The Malecon Promenade, which extends along most of the avenue that runs adjacent to the Bay of Havana, is one of the most famous, although the tradition is common throughout Cuba.
The Conga forms another essential element of the carnival; that of Santiago de Cuba draws in whoever comes close to it as it passes through the streets of that eastern city. It is, in the eyes of many, an event that makes the local carnival one of the most colorful in the Caribbean.