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December in Havana

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DECEMBER IN HAVANA: forget Rudolph, think movies & jazz. 

You might imagine a Cuban Christmas to be non-stop merriment and mojitos, yet the festive season here is a relatively recent phenomenon. From 1959-1997 it didn’t officially exist: the island’s Revolution was atheist. But a historic visit to Cuba (1998) by Pope John Paul  II saw the 25  December reinstated as a public holiday. Nevertheless, it remains a mainly rice and pork, family-at-home affair (on the 24th) and doesn’t, yet, involve present-giving or the ‘’what are you doing for Xmas’’ angst that we know so well. In addition, it’s the New Year that resonates far more here – though that’s also very family/home based. What Cuba can offer you in December, however, is full-on culture.


The annual, flourishing and vibrant International Latin American Film Festival (its 37th; Dec 3-13) is promptly followed by Jazz Plaza Festival (its 31st; Dec 16-20). The former offers more than 450 films over 10 days and is attended by a swathe of high-profile national and international directors to boot. Go to Havana’s Hotel Nacional (its buzzing HQ), stroll around the Vedado district (more buzz) and catch as many films as you can. Many of these movies will later be shown in Santiago de Cuba, Santa Clara and other Cuban provinces too.

By comparison the reputation of the Jazz festival (Jazz Plaza) has really suffered. Draconian Cuba-US travel restrictions during the Bush years hit hard. Lack of local funds/sponsorship and prohibitive travel costs for musicians from further afield also had the event by the throat. But, following the recent softening of US-Cuba relations, this year‘s jamboree promises to be far more energetic.

Happy Christmas from Havana!



Sue Herrod


About the Author
Kath Bateman founded Caledonia in 1996 and still has a very active role in the company. As a linguist and avid traveller, Caledonia brings together many strands of Kath’s personal and professional interests. She is a Modern Languages and Tourism graduate and has worked as a tour leader and trilingual guide, ski rep and salsa teacher, cultural events organiser, salsa club promoter and English language teacher. She lived and studied in France and Austria and has travelled widely elsewhere in Europe, Latin America and particularly in Cuba. Kath is still very much involved in the business and is as motivated by what Caledonia does as when she first set up the company in the spare room at home all those years ago.