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Carnivals And Festivals - The Parrandas

Remedios and its festivities, the Parrandas

Remedios is one of the oldest cities in Cuba. It is called "The 8th Village" and it was founded by Spanish settlers in 1524; after various attempts at naming it, it was finally called "San Juan de Los Remedios de la Sabana del Cayo".

During 1578, the village suffered several attacks from pirates and the villagers moved to another location twice, after which another pirate attack had a big group of settlers there moving further inland to the centre of that territory, where they founded another settlement which later became what is today the city of Santa Clara.

The families that were leaving for the newer village and were trying to get the whole town to move to the new settlement set Remedios on fire. Miraculously, the only place left untouched by the fire was the parish church. The inhabitants that did not leave set to reconstructing the village. In 1696 the town council was founded and the village kept growing.

Nowadays, in Remedios some of the very old constructions still remain, evidence to the quality of the work of the original builders, the tastes and the needs of its original inhabitants. Among the most significant buildings in the city are the ones surrounding its central square, the once Art and Literary Lyceum and today the House of Culture, which is also seat to a museum dedicated to one of the best Cuban musicians, Alejandro Garcia Caturla.

There is also a museum dedicated to the popular arts, the first of its kind in Cuba where the history of Parrandas. Synonym to party, racket, merrymaking, ruckus making, the word 'Parranda' is used to denominate the teams of musicians that play and sing for fun during the night.

The idea of the celebration of these festivities, the Parrandas, was conceived in 1820 and was related to the concerns of a young priest at the parish church known as Francisquito - Francisco Vigil de Qui´┐Żones was his full name -. He was trying to boost the somehow diminished assistance of his parishioners to the midnight mass starting from December 16th and ending on Christmas Eve and share the celebration. He sent to the streets groups of youngsters with cans, tins, guiros, bugles, horns and rattles to make as much noise as possible and announce the beginning of and invite the neighbourhoods to join these religious festivities. The original idea gained adepts, the groups started to get more organised and street orchestras were created competing with each other for the best performance, playing tones that cheered up the whole town.

Then came the lamps - made from barrel iron arcs and onionskin paper - to decorate the incipient festivity, the fireworks and light works of the eight neighbourhoods in competition that were mounted in the town's central square. In the XIX century were introduced the triumphal carriages that evolved to the present floats or carrozas, until 1871, when the competition concentrated between only two neighbourhoods, San Salvador and El Carmen, with their own identity music incorporating bells, drums and an eternal but fraternal rivalry.

The San Salvador camp adopted in 1871 as his identity hymn a composition created by Perico Morales, a musician from Remedios and an inspired parranda man. In the mean time, the El Carmen camp did a similar thing with a tune created by Laudelino Quintero, also from Remedios. The symbol adopted by El Carmen was the hawk, while El Salvador adopted a rooster as theirs.

The celebrations initiated in Remedios reached fame and by the end of the XIX century they started to be copied by other towns close by. These traditional festivities have retained their freshness and splendour with time, where the whole town of Remedios, grouped around the two named camps, with their respective uniforms, symbols and banners, actively participate every year.

In the Parrandas de Remedios the competition between El Salvador and El Carmen camps - between the hawk and the rooster -, is about all manifestations of art, theatre, music, secret preparation of lamps, flags and banners to be disclosed at the last moment for the best surprising effect; the best floats and art works like monuments of wood with exquisite decoration and endless mechanical and light changes are selected and the winner gets the honours but, in the end, the real winner is Remedios.

The best night is Christmas Eve. Every person from Remedios tries to be there, whether coming back from other places of the island or abroad. The most incredible and gigantic combination of light works, figures and colours start at dusk. At nine start the firework salute from the corresponding camps and then every half hour, each time stronger, in a competition reaching almost fanatic proportions. Close to three in the morning the floats come out, turning the centre of the town in a huge stage for theatre representation in which the public intently tries to discover each element of the play, listen to the legend, and recreate with the music, until they end up being one in front of the other across the central square. It is almost four in the morning now and the fireworks again explode everywhere. After the victor is announced, the dawn is there with the deafening noise of the fireworks, the smell of gun powder, the compasses of the rumba and the public ending an unforgettable experience. But for Remedios, it starts all over again, until the following year.

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