HAVANA-Despite persistent rain, thousands turned out over the weekend at Havana’s annual carnival celebrations.

Crowds gathered along the Cuban capital’s Malecon, or the seafront promenade, to watch the two-km-long nighttime parade of floats.

“No matter under rain, sun or moonlight, we will always be at the carnival,” engineer Pedro Javier Rodriguez told Xinhua.

Like other residents, Rodriguez and his friends danced and sang as the 18 carnival troupes and 14 traditional floats went by.

This year, Cuba’s largest carnival marked the 500th anniversary of the founding of Havana in November 1519. As Havana’s carnival rival, the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba hosts the country’s second largest celebration. The two cities compete against each other to hold the grandest celebrations in the country.

“The carnivals of Havana are the biggest in Cuba,” said Oscar Nunez, vice president of an electric motorcycle club that took part in the opening of the parade.

“There is nothing like it,” echoed 20-year-old Gretell Hernandez. “Since I was a child, I have been coming to these parties every year.”

Odalys Barbosa, who was accompanied by her children and grandchildren, acknowledged “the fame of the Santiago carnivals,” but said “in Havana, the celebration is much more glamorous.”

Whether they are held in Havana or Santiago de Cuba, these carnivals showcase the fusion of African, Caribbean and Spanish cultures that have existed on the island country since the Spanish brought slaves from Africa in the 16th century. At this time of year, plantation owners would allow their slaves to organize parades, with different African groups performing songs and dances wearing costumes of the places they came from. Later, the Haitian slaves of French property owners in Cuba joined the revelry.

Chinese immigrants also joined the culture carnival, adding richness to the island’s celebrations, where the conga has musical prominence.

Havana’s first carnival was held on Feb. 24, 1895 and until the early 1960s, the festivities took place in the second month of the year.

Following the 1959 Revolution, the Communist Party decided the year’s top festival should be held in late summer to celebrate the end of the sugar harvest.

No matter when or where the island’s carnival celebrations take place -- Havana or Santiago -- they showcase a rich tapestry of Cuba’s cultural heritage.