December in Cuba, like in much of the world, is a festive time where you can breathe the air of celebration and anticipation pretty much everywhere. Cubans hurry about to ensure they get all ingredients necessary for the New Year´s Eve mega feast and get ready to greet the new year in style and by that we mean with a lot of dancing, singing and partying!
In the lead-up to Christmas and New Year, the nation waves goodbye to 2018 with a series of concerts and special shows, the biggest of which are celebrated in Havana, where the majority of this month´s calendar of events are located. Read on to find out what not to miss this December in Havana!
Top Picks in Cuba´s December Calendar
Habana Film Festival (6 to 16 December)
Havana’s annual film festival kicks on in the Cuban capital this month bringing to the city an international entourage of producers, actors and film directors from Latin America and beyond. Under the theme “20/20 a los 40” (20/20 at 40) which alludes to the festival having reached middle age with perfect clarity and sharpness of vision, Cuba’s most international event of this kind celebrates its 40th anniversary with a bang.
Attracting Hollywood stars like Benicio del Toro (whose presence in the festival this year or to Havana, in general, isn’t the first one but rather the latest in a long list of visits - his love affair with the island is well-known), Matt Dillon, Michael Moore and Geraldine Chaplin, all of whom have come to check out the island’s talent in the film industry as well as wider Latin American talent given the many nominees other from Latin American nations, the “Festival de Cine Latinoamericano de la Habana” gets bigger and better each year.
This year the festival is also celebrating the 500th anniversary of Havana’s foundation and its programme will include an exhibition at the Palacio del Segundo Cabo in Plaza de Armas (Old Havana) showing Havana’s presence in films throughout the years and how the city has evolved while playing the leading role.
If you’re in Cuba during the first half of December, it’s a great time to check out Latin American films as all cinemas throughout the city will be showing this year’s nominees, including five Cuban films nominated for the coveted Coral prize. To find out the full calendar of events and film showings check out the festival’s official page at habanafilmfestival.com/
A "Hot Christmas" in Galeria Galiano (13 December to 14 January)
An art venue in Havana is hosting a special seasonal exhibition this month that reflects on Cuban Christmas traditions and the figure of Santa Claus as a reference in the pictorial works of young Cuban artist Marco Arturo Herrera. The exhibition, aptly titled “Christmas Caliente” (translating as Hot Christmas, in reference to Cuba´s balmy winter temperatures) will be displayed at Galeria Galiano in Vedado, Havana from mid-December to mid-January.
“Conocer La Habanera” in concert throughout Havana (13, 14 and 15 December)
Celebrating the second edition of “Conocer la Habanera” (Getting acquainted with “habaneras”) chamber music will take hold of the city with a series of concerts throughout the month. The idea is precisely to give visibility to “habaneras” an autochtonous music genre that, as its name indicates was born in Havana. The first of these concerts will take place on 13th December at Iglesia de San Francisco de Paula, a beautiful baroque church. The time is 5 p.m. and the programme includes the participation of Coro de Camara de la Escuela Nacional de Arte and Ensemble Vocal Luna with a long list of soloists.
On 14th December, the habaneras will move to Hotel Inglaterra’s Patio Sevillano, where the Banda Provincial de Conciertos de La Habana will perform under the guidance of invited guest director, Moises Hernandez Dumenigo. The concert starts at 4 p.m. Then, on the same day but at a different time and in a different venue, a “Carmen” recital will be performed at the “Aula Magna del Colegio Universitario San Geronimo” at 6 p.m. On the following day and at the same venue, a trio of vocal groups will take over the Aula Magna del Colegio Universitario San Geronimo for a final performance at 5 p.m.
The Nutcracker at Gran Teatro de La Habana (14 to 23 December)
A winter classic that evokes the Christmas magic like no other will take over Havana’s Gran Teatro for most of December, giving the audience plenty of time to catch one of the many performances. This month Ballet Nacional de Cuba will put its heart and soul into recreating this beautiful ballet piece and bringing it back to life during the most special season of all. Performances are scheduled for weekends at 8:30 p.m. on 14th, 15th, 21st and 22nd December and at 5 p.m. on 16th and 23rd December.
EYEIFE International Electronic Music Festival (12 to 16 December)
Havana will resonate with sounds of electronic fusion this mid-December with nightly concerts on 14th and 15th December starting at 8 p.m. and hosted at the Parque Metropolitano de La Habana Almendares (a.k.a. Parque Almendares, adjacent to the increasingly popular Bosque de La Habana). Simultaneously, Fabrica de Arte Cubano (FAC) will host nightly club sessions on 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th December. So there´s plenty of live electronic music action to choose from this month in Havana and if you want to take part in one of the workshops, they will be hosted at ISA, Universidad de Las Artes on 12th December. Those lucky enough to be enjoying Cuba holidays this month will be able to discover electronic music talent in a very raw, 100 per cent Cuban ambience.
Codanza launches winter programme in Holguin (14, 15 and 16 December)
Ending the year on a high note, Holguin´s contemporary dance company, Codanza will be staging a new winter programme at the eastern city´s Teatro “Eddy Sunol”. The production includes the performance of “La Casita” an original production by U.S. choreographer, Robert Priore, the presentation of “El Segundo Sexo” a piece by Cuban choreographer and Codanza dancer Vianky Gonzalez “Ofrenda de toros” by Rafael Portellez. These last two were awarded during this year´s edition of the Grand Prix “Vladimir Malakhov” Tournament. The show starts at 9 p.m. on 14th and 15th December at 5 p.m. on 16th December.
Charangas de Bejucal (24 and 25 December)
The traditional Christmas street parties and parades of the town of Bejucal in Mayabeque (a small province on the outskirts of Havana) kick off on New Year’s Eve with spectacular fireworks, elaborate floats and the usual rivalry between two teams: Dreams and Fantasies. It’s a great opportunity to enjoy a picturesque festivity in true Cuban folklore and splendour. If you’re in Havana this festive season try to make the trip here to experience a different kind of Christmas, bright, joyful and vibrantly Latin!
A whole lot of Jazz!
Stellar concert by Joven Jazz Band at Havana’s Fine Arts Museum (12 December)
Joaquin Betancourt and his Joven Jazz Band will be treating the audience to a one-off concert at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Fine Arts Museum) in Old Havana. It’s on at 7 p.m.
Roberto Fonseca at La Zorra y El Cuervo (14, 21 and 28 December)
Performing on three different dates this month and always at the same time 11 p.m. contemporary Cuban jazz pianist, Roberto Fonseca will treat a jazz-loving audience at Club La Zorra y El Cuervo this December. After having toured with the Buena Vista Social Club and recording the album “No Limit: Afro Cuban Jazz” in Japan, this rising star is a gift for the soul.
Bellita and Jazz Tumbata at La Zorra y El Cuervo (29 December)
Leading Cuban jazz woman, Bellita will be performing alongside her band Jazz Tumbata at Vedado´s hottest jazz venue, La Zorra y El Cuervo. Shining brightly and distinctively in a genre dominated by male artists, this multi-talented musician and her band excel at combining elements of contemporary jazz, where each band member, including herself, plays more than one instrument and where she uses her hands as a pianist and voice as a vocalist to add passion and drama to her performances. Don´t miss it! It´s on at 11 p.m.
Lazaro Valdes at La Zorra y El Cuervo (23rd and 31st December)
Veteran Cuban jazzist, Lazaro Valdes and his band, Son Jazz will take over La Zorra y El Cuervo on two different dates this month, including New Year´s Eve, to welcome the new year with a jazzy tune. Both performances are scheduled for 11 p.m.
“Soy Cuba”, a show by Cuba´s National Circus (8 to 30 December)
The Carpa Trompoloco tent adjacent to Havana´s Isla de Coco theme park will be hosting a series of circus shows throughout all of December. To the delight of young and old, “Soy Cuba”, a show by Cuba´s National Circus (Circuba) will be taking to the stage on 15th, 16th, 22nd, 23rd, 29th and 30th December with two daily shows each day, one at 4 p.m. and a second one at 7 p.m.
Lizt Alfonso presents “1, 2, 3 Todos a Escena” (21 and 22 December)
The Cuban choreographer recently featured on this year’s BBC 100 Women list, will be presenting its usual end of year show at Havana’s Teatro Nacional de Cuba. The spectacle showcases the work of Lizt Alfonso’s dance company throughout the year, including the choreographer’s work with her younger dance groups, aged 7 onwards, which will also perform in this special evening.
To celebrate the end of the year and put a finishing brooch to a season, there are two shows scheduled on two consecutive nights at 8:30 p.m. The audience can look forward to the debut of new choreographies, a dance production by a group of 7-year-olds students, part of Lizt Alfonso Vocational Workshops, with the presentation of Children’s Ballet, Youth Ballet, Professional Ballet and Lizt Alfonso’s signature elite company “Dance Cuba”. Designed to showcase what this internationally-acclaimed contemporary fusion dance company has been up to in 2018, this bright and vibrant show encapsulates the company’s most successful productions this year. If you’re in Havana during those dates, don’t miss it!
Ballet Nacional de Cuba sees 2018 off on the dancefloor! (28, 29 and 30 December)
Cuba’s most international dance company will be taking to the stage at the end of this month for three daily performances. The first two evening performances are scheduled for 8:30 p.m. and the last one starts at 5:30 p.m. The productions are yet to be announced but will be followed by Swan Lake in January.