Monday, April 10, 2017


   The Calle Ocho Festival or "El Festival de la Calle Ocho", is a one day "rumba"-fiesta-that culminates the Miami Carnival.  This festival takes place in March each year between 27th avenue and 4th avenue, along Southwest 8th street, that is 23 blocks along "Calle Ocho" in "Little Havana" with activities for everybody.
   Even thought this festival is not counted amongst the official Hispanic holidays, more than 1 million people attend this block party to participate, and to see top Hispanic artists perform at every street intersection at the designated stages.


   You can hear salsa, reggeaton, merengue, bachata, balada, hip hop and more.  Personalities like El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, Cellia Cruz, Oscar D'Leon, El Grupo Niche and many more have performed at the festival
   "El Festival de la Calle Ocho", is one incredible party that in 1998 was recorded in the Guinness Book of Records for having the longest conga line in the world with 119,000 people participating in it.
   Music is not the only attraction going on at this Hispanic festival, the super famous block party has a kid's area with clowns, magicians, food galore, and products geared to moms and children.


   Another area of the festival is the "party zone", which is filled with a "carnaval" atmosphere, with street dancers and musicians that interact with the public.  It is a novelty for non-Hispanic people to see the salseros or salsa dancer on the street.  They come from the major salsa schools.  But you will also see many people dancing to the same rhythms. 


Foods at "Festival de la Calle Ocho"

   One of the best attractions of the festival is the food, it has many typical Latin flavors, especially of Cuban origin.  It included hundreds of kiosks or booths that offer international food along with a sampling of free products....all at the rhythm of lively Hispanic music.
   You can find ropa vieja con plantos (shredded skirt steak with plantains), carbrito (baby goat), other barbecued meats, arepas (which come form Colombia, Venezuela, etc.), and the delicious ceviche (seafood).
   The most popular drink is Cuba Libre.  To make it...use rum and coke served with a wedge of lime.  You can also find fresh fruit juices at restaurants and Mojito Cubano, a drink that is made with white rum, lemon, and mint.


Some History of the Festival

   In 1978, Cubans invited the neighborhood to know more about Cuban culture and Calle Ocho Festival was born.
   This festival happens in the heart of "Little Havana", a wonderful neighborhood where the festive air invades it all at any time of the day.  In the morning you can smell the scent of coffee recently brewed and enjoy a "cafe' con leche", along with freshly bakes pastries.  At lunchtime beans, rice, Cuban sandwiches, etc. are amongst the favorite and popular foods you can find.
   The "Little Havana" enclave started because in the 1960's, Cuban refugees began settling around Miami's "Calle Ocho" and another major influx of Cubans occurred during the Mariel boat lift of 1980, that ended up increasing the Cuban population in and around the Miami area.

    The stores along Calle Ocho sell typical Cuban and more recently South and Central American products, (especially Nicaraguan) as new immigrants make their way into the neighborhood.
   The Calle Ocho Festival is the perfect party for travelers to enjoy all of the different flavors of Cuba and other Latin American Countries.  This part of Miami is ripe with the music, art and flavors or many different Hispanic cultures, all living in one place.  Attending the Calle Ocho Festival will make you feel like your in another country without leaving the United States.


    The Carnival of Brazil, is an annual festival held 46 days before Easter.  On certain days of Lent, Roman Catholics and some other Christians traditionally abstained from the consumption of meat and poultry, hence the term "carnival", from  carnelevre, "to remove meat".  Carnival celebrations are believed to have roots in the pagan festival of Saturnalia, which, adapted to Christianity, became a farewell to bad things in a season of religious discipline to practice repentance and prepare for Christ's death and resurrection.


   Rhythm, participation, and costumes vary from one region of Brazil to another.  In the southeastern cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, huge organized parades are led by samba schools.  Those official parades are meant to be watched by the public, with mini parades ("blocos") allowing a public participation can be found in other cities.  The northeastern cities of Salvador, Porto Segur and Recife have organized groups parading through streets, and the public interacts directly with them.  This carnival is heavily influenced by African-Brazilian culture.  Crowds follow the trio electricos floats through the city streets.  Also in northeast Olinda,  carnival features unique characteristics, part influenced by Venice Carnival mixed with cultural depictions of local folklore.


   Carnival is the most famous holiday in Brazil and has become an event of hug proportions.  The country stops completely for almost a week and festivities are intense, day and night, mainly in coastal cities.  The consumption of beer during the festival  accounts for 80% of annual consumption and tourism receives a 70% boost of  annual visitors.  The government distributes condoms and launches an awareness campaign at this time to prevent the spread of AIDS and other STD's.

History of Carnival

   The modern Brazilian Carnival originated in Rio de Janeiro in 1641, when the city's bourgeoisie imported the practice of holding balls and masquerade parties from Paris.  It originally mimicked the European form of the festival, later absorbing and creolizing elements derived from Native American and African cultures.
   In the late 19th century, the cordoes (cords, laces or strings) were introduced in Rio de Janeiro.  These were pageant groups that paraded through city avenues performing on instruments and dancing.  Today they are known as Blocos (blocks), consisting of a group of people who dress in costumes or special t-shirts with themes and/or logos.  Blocos are generally associated with particular neighborhoods.  They include both a percussion or music group and an entourage of revellers.

   Block parades have become an expressive feature of Rio's Carnival.  Today, they number more than 100 and the groups increase each year in size.  Blocos can be formed by small or large groups of revelers with a distinct title with an often funny pun.  They may also not their neighborhood or social status.  Before the show, they gather in a square, then parade in sections of the city, often near the beach.  Some blocos never leave one street and have a particular place, such as a bar, to attract viewers.  Block parades start in January, and may last until the Sunday after Carnival.

   Samba schools are very large groups of performers, financed by respected organizations who work year round in preparation for Carnival.  Samba schools perform in the Sambadrome, which runs 4 entire nights.  They're part of an official competition, divided into 7 divisions, in which a single school is declared the winner, according to costume, flow, them, and band music quality and performance.  Some samba schools also hold street parties in their neighborhoods, through which they parade along with their followers.
   Carnival time in Rio is a very interesting, but also the most expensive time to visit Rio.  Hotel rooms and lodgings can be up to 4 times more expensive than the regular rates.  There are big crowds at some locations and life is far from ordinary in many parts of town.



   The Carnival parades in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo take place in the Sambodromo, locate close to the city center.  In the city of Rio, the parades start at roughly 9-10 p.m., depending of the date and end around 5 in the morning.  The Rio Metro (subway) operates 24 hours during the main parade days.
   The actual amount of spectators in the Sambodromo may be higher than the official number of seats available.  Like any other event the better the seats the higher the price for them.


   The Samba originated in Bahia from the African rhythms, it was brought to Rio around 1920 and is still one of the most popular styles of Brazilian music, together with Samba-pargode and Samba-reggae.  From intimate samba-cancoes ( samba songs) sung in bars to explosive drum parades performed during Carnival, samba always evokes a warm and vibrant mood.  Samba developed as a distinctive kind of music at the beginning of the 20th century in Rio.  In the 1930's, a group of musicians led by Ismael Silva, founded in the neighborhood of Estacio de Sa, the first Samba school, Deixa Falar.
   In the following years, samba has developed into several directions, from the gentle samba-cancao to the drum orchestras which  make the soundtrack of carnival parades.  One of these new styles was the Bossa Nova.

   In the beginning of the 1980's, after having been sent underground due to styles like disco and Brazilian rock, the Samba reappeared in the media with a musical movement crated in the suburbs of Rio.
   This is not exactly about style or musical movement, but rather about a useful brand name given to artists from Salvador who made music in northeastern Brazilian, Caribbean and African rhythms with a pop/rock twist, which helped them take over the Brazilian hit parades since 1992.  Axe' is a ritual greeting used in Candomble' and Umbanda religions, and means "good vibration".  The word music was attached to Axe', used as slang within the local music business by a journalist who intended to create a derogatory term for the pretentious dance-driven style.



   The legend of St. Urho originated in Northern Minnesota in the 1950's.  However, there are differing opinions as to whether it began with the fables created by Sulo Hvumaki of Bemidji, or the tales told by Richard Mattson of Virginia.  Either way, the legend has grown among North American of Finnish descent to the point where St. Urho is know celebrated across the United States and Canada, and even in Finland.
   St. Urho's Day is celebrated on March 16th, the day prior to the better known feast of some minor saint from Ireland, who was alleged to have driven the snakes from that island.
   The legend of St. Urho say he chased the grasshoppers out of ancient Finland, thus saving the grape crop and the jobs of Finnish vineyard workers.  He did this by utter the phrase : "Heinasirkka, heinasirkka, men taaita hiteen"! ( roughly translated: " Grasshopper, grasshopper, go to Hell"!).  His feast is celebrated by wearing the colors Royal Purple and Nile Green.  St. Urho is nearly always represented with grapes and grasshoppers as part of the picture.


The Origin of St. Uhro

   The legend of St. Urho, is not the product of one person, but of many.  The original character is usually traced to Virginia, MInnesota, but like most good legends, there have been many voices in creating the history of S. Urho.
   St. Urho was created by Richard Mattson, who worked at Ketola's Department Store in Virginia, Minnesota.  Mattson is generally creadited with conjuring up a Finnish courterpart to St. Patrick in the spring of 1956.  Just as Patrick had driven the snakes from Ireland, Mattson's saint drove a plague of frogs from Finland.  There were several Finnish names suggested, but Saint Ero or Saint Jussi, or even Toivo or Eino, just didn't have the correct ring of a saint name.  Urho Kekkonen became president of Finland in 1956, and some believe that is where the came came from.  Others say that Kekkonen was called "Saint Urho" by the citizens of Finland, and the name was attached to Mattson's legend.


   Gene McCavic took the St. Urho legend and, with help form Mattson, wrote an "Ode to St. Urho".  It told of a boy ("poika", Finnish for "boy") named Urho who got strong on sour whole milk ("feelia sour") and fish soup ("kala mojakka").  In the original, Urho chases out "tose Rogs" (those frogs) with his loud voice.  The original Ode also celebrates St. Urho's Day as "twenty-fourth of May".  The original poem was written on a piece of wrapping paper, and is on display at Ironworld Discovery Center in Chisolm, Minnesota.
   The legend spread, originally across Minnesota to Finnish settlements on the Mesabi Iron Range, and to Menahoga, New York Mills, Wolf Lake, and of course, Finland.  St. Urho's Day is now celebrated in towns with Finnish heritage, across Michigan's Upper Peninsula;  Thunder Bay, Ontario;  Burlington, Vermont; Butte, Montana; and Hood River, Oregon.


  Today, the St. Urho tradition is carried on in many Finnish communities, sometimes as an excuse to add an extra day of rowdy celebration to the St. Patrick's Day festivities.  In many Finnish-American communities, however, St. Urho's Day is the celebration, and St. Pat's feast day is merely an afterthought, a day to sleep off the hangover.

Sinikka, St. Urho's Wife, the real hero??

   No St. Urho's Day would be complete without, mentioning his wife, Sinikka!  Here's the info on her:

   For many years Sinikka's spirit has been watching all these doings; Urho getting all the glory, and Sinkka, lying unknown in dark ruins.
 But now, up from the grave, the spirit of Sinikka has risen!  "You know, Urho and I did things together, like a team of oxen"! 
Many people thought that St. Urho wasn't married and needed a wife, but he was married to the shy young maiden, Sinikka, the love of his life! 
And "So what," you ask, "did that Sinikka, St. Urho's wife do?"  Why Sinikka did all those things that Urho didn't have the time to! 
It is said Urho chased out all them grasshoppers, almost big as pigs!  To save the vines and grapes in the land where all the Finns live.

   Then while Urho was out getting all the honors, many thought him due, Sinikka was at home tending the vines where those grapes, big as figs, grew!
 And when they were ripened, Sinikka would call all their twelve kids, to carefully pick off those vines those purple grapes, big as figs!
 Then Sinikka would heat up the sauna fire, so it was good and hot, and threw in the twelve children, bare naked, all in one lot! 
Sinikka scrubbed them all clean from their heads to their toes.  Wiped them down dry, and into the big grape barrel they did go! 
"Now, stomp, jump, and play on those purple grapes, big as figs"!  Sinikka told all the twelve children, from the little one to the big!
 So much fun they did have, all those happy children at play, and so much grape juice was ready by the end of the day. 
That it was then coming out so fast that Sinikka had to build a dam, to store the juice 'til she could make it into jellies and jam!


 So you see whil Urho was getting his sainthood many thought him due, Sinikka was at home doing all the chores, which were not just a few! 
Sinikka pounded their clothes clean on the shores of the great Spirit Lake, Sinikka ground up the grain for the loaves of rye bread she baked.
From Sinikka's garden they dug up vegetables to store in the cellar, so the family could eat with rye bread, pottuja and mojakka all winter! 
Then Sinikka had to reap the bees' harvest and sell some honey, to buy the yard goods and shoe leather, as they cost money!
 Sinikka then taught the six girls how to sew all the family clothes, and to trim the skirts and shirts nicely with braids and bows.
Sinikka showed the boys how to cut and stitch all the family shoes, and keep them in good condition for the whole family to use.
 Sinikka milked the cows and made the feelia sour, she gathered the eggs, and from the sheep's wool, Sinnikka spun and knitted leggings for all of their legs!
 So, you see, while St. Urho has been getting all the glory for so many years, it's time to honor Sinikka, she stood by him through blood, sweat, and tears!
 Goodhearted, kind, and very hardworking was that Sinikka, wife of St. Urho, and it was said by many that maybe Sinikka was the real sainted hero!
 But nobody wanted to honor a woman, though a deserving Finn, and give sainthood to someone whose name started with "Sin"!