HAVANA TIMES — What does Christmas amount to in Cuba? A day of reconciliation, not among family members (forced to live together in overcrowded homes or torn apart by emigration), but between the State and the generation my grandparents belong to – possibly an apology, which, of necessity, must remain unspoken.
It is also a time in which the country’s service sector looks even more grotesque than usual. One need only stand at the entrance to a store or cafeteria to be startled by employees or waiters wearing hot, red woolen caps they will have to endure until early January.
There are all sorts of such hats. Some are shaped like springs, others like deflated balloons, yet others show multi-colored braids. There are some establishments that make their employees wear uniforms decorated with suggestive snow-flakes. Plastic flowers and large tangles of defective, flickering bulbs trying to imitate Christmas lights are also common.
Did the Cuban State actually prohibit Christmas at one point? I am almost certain no written document will attest to this. Being an atheist, however, became at one point the best way to remain afloat inside an island-ship that was sinking (and continues to sink), and many traditions where thrown overboard as excess ballast.
Soon, I will turn 26 and the phenomenon of Christmas, which for me was born near the close of the 90s, is an unfamiliar and strange tradition. Christmas festivities and their singular traditions have arrived in Cuba little by little.
First, they began to sell small, discrete Christmas trees that were less than half a meter tall. Then, they flooded stores with decorations. Around 2010, children began to have their pictures with Santa Claus taken at Havana’s largest shopping center. Today, we can already buy turkeys and nougats (products that rot on the shelves because of their frightful prices).
Christmas in Cuba, today devoid of any negative social implications, without any bonuses and celebrated by a generation with an entirely atheistic education, is merely a kind of dress rehearsal for New Year’s festivities.
This reinstated Christmas comes with strong commercial connotations and a high dose of frustration. It is celebrated with Christmas trees devoid of gifts, roasted pork and papaya desserts – without carols and with plenty of reggaeton music.