The funeral of revolutionary leader Fidel Castro that happened on Sunday (4 December) not only left thousands in tears but also dampened the spirit of Cuba's popular Santeria festival. Tens of thousands of people gather to observe the annual festival to celebrate Santa Barbara, a red-clad Roman Catholic saint worshiped by the people of the Santeria faith.

Although a crowd in the low hundreds assembled at a church associated with the saint on the outskirts of Havana in the early hours of Sunday, local residents said this year's festival was a shadow of its normal self.

The locals also said that 4 December celebration was very unusual unlike other years as it was without drums, flowers and out-of-town crowds that make it a yearly highlight.

"Other years there is food and refreshments for people who aren't from here," Armando Rodrigo, 26, mingling with his friends outside the church in the Parraga neighbourhood, said.

Santa Barbara is a female saint in the Roman Catholic pantheon, but she symbolises a male ancestor – Changó – whose roots are in West Africa in Santeria and is linked to fire, lightning and war, as well as drumming and music.

Some followers of Santa Barbara was happy with the fact that Castro's funeral, who died on 25 November aged 90, coincided with saint's celebration and that he had been mourned for the same nine day period, which some devotees of the religion consider auspicious.

However, some practitioners were annoyed with the restrictions on the celebration, including the closing of the church at midnight, and the lack of dedication in homes.

Cuba's Santeria festival
People gather at the Saint Barbara Church to pray on the day known as Santa Barbara to Catholics and Chango to followers of Cuba's Santeria religion, in Havana, Cuba REUTERS/Stringer

"I've lived 39 years and never seen it like this," said one devotee and added that he respected Castro's passing, "but didn't think it should impinge on his religious beliefs".