Little Havana Festivals & Events

Little Havana’s monthly and annual festivals, parades and processions take place all year long. For events like art exhibits and musical performances, check out our News & Events section. Below are some of the most significant events in the neighborhood. I list festivals, commemorations, saint feast days and saint processions* here.

Please note that tourists should not be participating in the saint processions unless for religious reasons.

Domino Plaza during Viernes Culturales
Domino Plaza during Viernes Culturales

Viernes Culturales / Cultural Fridays

I love this free arts and culture festival on the last Friday of every month. I have attended more than a hundred Viernes Culturales/Cultural Fridays since I moved into the neighborhood. I used to be the Executive Director (and later board member) of the nonprofit that runs Viernes Culturales.

Viernes Culturales delights people of all ages! Although the festival officially runs from 7 to 11 pm, local venues stay open well past the midnight hour. Most activities take place on Calle Ocho (SW 8th Street) between 17th Avenues and 14th Avenues. Increasingly, venues organize happenings outside these boundaries during the monthly event.

People pack Domino Plaza to shop for arts and crafts sold in Domino Plaza (adjacent to the  Tower Theater). They also step into our galleries to appreciate artwork and new exhibits. I like to listen and dance to the free music and folkloric dance performances in Domino Plaza. Our new Azucar Plaza has also become a popular place to dance. Live bands perform at every local music venue during Viernes Culturales. If you’re a cigar smoker, you’ll find plenty of places where you can purchase or smoke your puro.

If you plan to eat during Viernes Culturales, be warned: local restaurants fill up quickly. Consider checking out the restaurants outside the main festival area.

Your might want to start the evening with a movie at the Tower Theater next to Domino Plaza. It specializes in international and independent films. Or, at 7 pm, join local historian Dr. Paul George on his free walking tour of Little Havana. The tour begins at the Tower Theater (1508 SW 8th St., Miami, 33135), with a different itinerary each month. Be warned, however: usually as many as 50 people (or more) will be joining you on the tour!

Calendar of Annual Events

JANUARY

La Parada de Los Tres Reyes

Camels walking down Calle Ocho during the Three Kings Parade.
Camels walking down Calle Ocho during the Three Kings Parade.

On a Sunday in early January, thousands of South Floridians of all ages flock to the edges of Calle Ocho for La Parada de Los Tres Reyes Magos (the Three Kings Parade).  The parade proceeds along Calle Ocho (SW 8th Street) for at least a dozen blocks.

If you are looking for something culturally enriching or relating in any significant way to the story of Los Reyes Magos, however, you will be disappointed.

I have attended this parade for the last few years. Typically, it is car after car of elected officials waving from convertibles, celebrities from the world of sports and TV telenovelas (Latin soap operas), marching bands doing their routines (sometimes without much enthusiasm), very commercialized floats with bored young ladies standing in very high heels and more police, fire and military vehicles than you could possibly imagine.

The highlight of the actual parade are three camels that walk behind three men dressed in long flowing robes, representing Melchior, Caspar and Balthasar. Also popular are the street vendors walking quickly along the sides of the parade. Some sell colorful toys and merchandise. Others sell fresh tropical fruit or other Latin street fare.

Jose Marti Parade

On January 28th (or around that date), local schoolchildren from the Lincoln-Marti Schools dress up for a parade along Calle Ocho. They are celebrating the birth of Jose Marti. The parade celebrates the 19th century Cuban journalist, poet, intellectual and hero of Cuba’s fight for independence against Spain. Jose Marti was born on January 28th.

Float during the Jose Marti Parade.
Float during the Jose Marti Parade.

Jose Martí is a beloved historical figure in Miami’s Cuban community. He represents creative resistance, as a man who used the power of the pen to inspire and unite a nation. Democracy, liberty and justice are constant themes in Martí’s works.

The parade that honors his birth begins in Cuban Memorial Park, at 13th Ave and SW 8th St. (Calle Ocho). Every year the parade is a little different (I’ve experienced it four times). Often schoolchildren (with teachers) sit on decorated floats, accompanied by a marching band, elders carrying a flag, and children dancing the Cuban comparsa. As the parade moves through local streets, residents cluster along sidewalks and peer down from balconies.

In the months prior to the parade, Lincoln-Martí Schools, the Association of Bilingual Schools, and Libre newspaper sponsor an annual Art and Writing Competition. Submissions must be based on the life and work of Jose Martí. Winners receive their prizes after the Jose Martí Parade, at a follow-up celebration in Jose Martí Park.

: FEBRUARY

February is carnival month! Viernes Culturales usually highlights the carnival (carnaval) traditions of countries in different parts of Latin America and the Caribbean. Enjoy the folkloric dances and colorful costumes.

February 3rd is also the feast day for the patron saint of Honduras, Nuestra Señora de Suyapa, and the 27th is Independence Day in the Dominican Republic.

: MARCH

We’re still ready to arollar (dance in the street) in March. This is when our biggest festival takes place: the Calle Ocho Festival. It is part of celebrations that last over a week: Carnaval Miami. Other Carnaval Miami events include a foot race, Golf Classic, domino tournament, etc. The Kiwanis of Little Havana make it possible!

Calle Ocho Festival

Crowd during the Calle Ocho Festival.
Crowd during the Calle Ocho Festival.

The famous Calle Ocho Festival in early March is one of the world’s largest street festivals. People come from around the world come to Little Havana to join in the loud and boisterous fest, extends 16 or more blocks along the street from which it takes its name.  Local and international music artists perform at the festival, filling the streets with people dancing.

The Carnaval Miami Domino Tournament (with cash prizes) is also held in Little Havana — at Domino Park, of course.

The Calle Ocho Festival began in 1978, when it was called Open House 8. See a 1979 video taken of Salsa Queen Celia Cruz and master percussionist Tito Puente performing on stage at the festival.

Every year, festival organizers try to break a Guinness World Record. In 1998, the Guinness Book of World Records recognized the festival as having the largest conga line in the world, with 119,000 people swinging their hips to the beat! The festival helped Little Havana’s thoroughfare of SW 8th St. (part of the historic Tamiami Trail) earn its moniker as Calle Ocho.

Participating in the festival can be overwhelming, with shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, lots of drinking and loudspeakers booming at their highest levels. Some people love it and others shun it. In fact, when I moved to Little Havana nearly a decade ago, most locals told me to stay away.

Read my blog post about the Calle Ocho Festival, which I have attended for years now. I love it!

: APRIL

Brigade 2506 veterans and supporters commemorate those who lost their lives in the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Brigade 2506 veterans and supporters commemorate those who lost their lives in the Bay of Pigs invasion.

Bay of Pigs Commemoration

April 17th is a solemn day for Cuban exiles in our community, as it marks the anniversary of the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs Invasion, when 104 men lost their lives in during the U.S.-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961.

A memorial service takes place to honor those who fought — and those who died — battling Cuban government forces on that day. The average age of these men was 23. They were part of the CIA-trained Brigade 2506, which is honored with a monument and eternal flame in Little Havana’s Cuban Memorial Park at SW 8th Street and 13th Avenue.

Annual gatherings take place around the monument on April 17th, as well as at the Bay of Pigs Museum at 1821 SW 9th Street. The remembrance includes an observance and roll call of fighters killed in battle (at the monument, usually at 4 pm), and a Mass at the museum (6 pm).

: MAY

Cinco de Mayo

We celebrate Cinco de Mayo in a lighthearted wayhere in Little Havana. On May 5th, our local Mexican restaurants offer food and drink specials. Azucar Ice Cream is known to prepare a special ice cream made with tequila!

May 20th is also the Independence Day of Cuba.

: JULY

4th of July

On the 4th of July here in Little Havana, we have our own mini fireworks displays, with local residents shooting off pretty impressive fireworks in the middle of the street, in parking lots and driveways.

July is the month of independence days for Venezuela, Argentina, Peru and Colombia, too, and the feast day for the Patron Saint of El Salvador, Santa Ana.

: AUGUST

August is a month of celebrations for members of our Salvadoran community who participate in Las Fiestas Agostinas (The August Feasts). The events honor El Divino Salvador del Mundo (Our Divine Savior of the World, Jesus Christ), Patron “Saint” of El Salvador.

Bolivia and Uruguay celebrate their independence days this month. August 8th marks the feast day for Santo Domingo de Guzman, Patron Saint of the Dominican Republic and Managua, Nicaragua.

: SEPTEMBER

Procession for La Virgen de Regla
Procession for La Virgen de Regla

La Virgen de Regla Saint Procession

In Little Havana, September 7th is a big day, as it is the feast day and procession for La Virgen de Regla, whom some say is the Patron Saint of Little Havana!

On this day, locals visit La Ermita de Regla (the Shrine of Regla) to honor the Saint with a procession through Little Havana streets, following a special mass. Afterwards, all come together for food, celebration and adoration of the saint (with prayers) back at the church.

September 8th is also significant in Miami’s Cuban community, as it is the feast day for the Patron Saint of Cuba: La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre. Venues in Little Havana often host events and exhibits in honor of her.

A string of independence days also take place this month. Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras & Costa Rica celebrate their independence days on September 15th. September 16 is the independence day for Mexico.

Near the end of the month, there is another feast day and saint procession in Little Havana, this time for La Virgen de Las Mercedes. See a video of the procession.

: NOVEMBER

For Little Havana locals with Nicaraguan roots, November’s big day is the 30th, the first day of La Purisima. Purisimas are early evening celebrations of the Virgin Mary held in private homes or even on the host’s lawn. Family members, friends and neighbors sit around a richly decorated altar with an image of La Virgen de la Asuncion (Virgin Mary). They recite the rosary and sing religious songs called villancicos.

Sometimes family members set off mild fireworks outside the home while others are saying prayers inside. Usually, the host distributes traditional sweets and drinks to the guests. The host may also distribute small gifts (“el paquete”).

The celebrations take place for nine days leading up to December 8, the feast day for the Virgin Mary.

: DECEMBER

Santa Barbara Saint Procession

December in Little Havana is truly packed with festivities. There are numerous feast days for Saints this month, in addition to the Noche Buena celebration of the Christmas holiday. We also have two significant saint processions this month.

The first saint procession takes place on December 4th, for Santa Barbara. Little Havana’s Santa Barbara church (Iglesia Santa Barbara) usually opens at 10 am, with Mass at 6 pm and the saint procession afterwards.

Gathering around an altar during La Griteria in Little Havana.
Gathering around an altar during La Griteria in Little Havana.

La Griteria

December 7th is a very important day in our Nicaraguan community. La Griteria celebrates the Virgin Mary.

La Griteria, literally translated as “the shouting”, brings Nicaraguan worshippers together for a festive caroling celebration. At 6 pm on December 7th, people of all ages gather in front of altars with an image of La Virgen de la Asuncion, patron saint of Nicaragua (Virgin Mary).

Many small Nicaraguan businesses in East Little Havana set up these altars in their storefronts. Some local businesses invite musicians and dancers to perform.

Participants sing traditional religious songs (villancicos) and some make noise with whistles, tambourines, maracas and rachet-like rattles. Others may wave incense into the air.

Traditionally, followers roam from one altar to another, singing the villancicos and exclaiming loudly, in a call-and-response: “Quien causa tanta alegria? La concepción de Maria!” (Who is the cause of so much happiness? The conception of Maria!”). The hosts of the altars hand out toys and sweets to those who stop by and sing.

December 8th is the feast day for the Virgin Mary and the last day of the nine consecutive days of celebration honoring her, as practiced within the Nicaraguan community. On this final day of La Purisima, most believers go to a special mass at their local Catholic Church, such as San Juan Bosco.

Storefront celebration for Mexico's patron saint, La Virgen de Guadalupe.
Storefront celebration for Mexico’s patron saint, La Virgen de Guadalupe.

Feast Day for La Virgen de Guadalupe

Locals in Little Havana’s Mexican community honor the patron Saint of Mexico on December 12, the feast day for La Virgen de Guadalupe. Celebrations include mariachi music at San Juan Bosco Catholic Church and events at the storefronts of Mexican restaurants and businesses.

Saint Procession for San Lázaro

On the feast day for San Lázaro, December 17th, many in Miami’s Cuban community go all the way to Hialeah to the Rincon de San Lazaro for a procession and other festivities honoring him. Few realize that Little Havana has its own church for San Lazaro, a hybrid saint not recognized by the Catholic Church (San Lazaro is not the same as Saint Lazarus). The Church of Santa Barbara has also organized a procession for San Lázaro.

Noche Buena

In Little Havana, as in many other Miami neighborhoods, locals celebrate Christmas the night before, during Noche Buena (Good Night).

Among Cuban residents, the night before Christmas is the time to eat lechón asado, or roast pig. I’ve talked to locals who remember when traffic backed up on Calle Ocho as families headed toward the carniceria (butcher) for their entire roast pig, to then bring home and share.

Every year, the Latin American Chamber of Commerce, or CAMACOL, organizes a “Noche Buena” food giveway in Little Havana. More than 1,000 needy families receive several bags of food each: about $150 worth of rice, beans, milk, bread and the traditional lechón.

See my blog post about Noche Buena.

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