In a country where Christmas was outlawed until 1998 and New Year’s Eve is more known for the Triumph of the Revolution, the holidays are a little different in Havana.

Swap the snowy, quiet evenings at home for Havana’s al fresco parties, impressive Afro-Cuban cabaret shows or memorable family feasts.

Fireworks explode over the city skyline in Havana © Shutterstock
The holiday season is a little unique in Cuba © Shutterstock

A traditional Cuban celebration 

Casas particulares (homestays) are a widespread form of accommodation in Havana and offer travelers a glimpse into daily Cuban life. With kids on school break by the end of December, this is a fantastic time to take part in a few street games.  

For rural escapades, travelers can head to Viñales or Trinidad where organic food is harvested on fincas (small farms) and family parties are filled with live music and endless conversations. Roasted pork, yucca with mojo (garlic sauce) and congri (rice and beans) are a mainstay on kitchen tables around the island.

Getting a little lucky

On New Year’s Eve, bad spirits and possible calamities are washed away with bucketfuls of water which are poured from balconies or doorways during the first minutes of the new year. Travelers-to-be walk around the block with a suitcase at midnight in hopes of attracting good luck or, in Cuba’s case, less bureaucracy for their travel plans.

Cubans dance the Rumba on a street in Havana © Yamil Lage / Getty Images
There's a host of al fresco concerts during the holidays in Havana © Yamil Lage / Getty Images

Dance the night away

Beginning a few weeks before the end of the year, public concerts in open-air plazas are now a tradition in Cuba. World-acclaimed bands such as Havana de Primera, Pupi y los que Son Son and Van Van delight fans with vibrant rhythms and hot choreography.

Though you won’t find an official calendar of events, expect concerts Thursdays through Sundays at 9pm at the Tribuna Antiimperialista in Vedado and at central plazas in all provinces throughout the country.

La Piragua and Casas de la Música in Centro Habana and Miramar will be the epicenter of Revolution’s 60th anniversary festivities to close out the year. Expect flashy concerts and much merriment.   

A pair of performers dance during a show at the Cabaret Tropicana  © The Visual Explorer/ Shutterstock
No one puts on a New Year's Eve party quite like Cabaret Tropicana © The Visual Explorer/ Shutterstock

‘Under the Stars’ extravaganza

Cabaret Tropicana was founded on December 31, 1939 and hosts an extravagant New Year’s Eve special celebration every year. The 8pm show kicks off with a dinner serenaded with violins, and later continues out at Salón Bajo las Estrellas (Under the Stars) with the spectacular show ‘Oh La Habana’. After midnight, guests receive special souvenirs and are treated to more live performances.

Travel tip: Patrons must be over 18 to enter Tropicana Cabaret. Men wearing shorts, tank tops or open-toed footwear will not be allowed to enter. Online bookings available at Tropicana’s website.

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