Cuba’s Reinstated Christmas

Daisy Valera

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.

10 thoughts on “Cuba’s Reinstated Christmas

  • Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, Grady.

    I share your disgust at the “overly commercialized, spiritually-vacant holiday”. It’s important to keep the true spirit of Christmas alive in our families. As the Grinch came to realize, the true “gift” of Christmas does not come wrapped in pretty paper and bows. It’s what’s in our hearts.

  • You should be happy to avoid the american capitallsit night mare!
    Ungrateful anti revolutionary wretches!

  • We have just gone through another Christmas here in the US. The tree is still up in our apartment, to try and squeeze a little more cheer out of a grossly over-commercialized, spiritually-vacant holiday. At least, they still showed “It’s A Wonderful Life” on TV.

  • My daughter donates her time and money to charity at Christmas. For gifts to family meme era she bakes a big batch of Christmas cookies and gives each person a hand made card. In my opinion, she has the true Christian spirit of Christmas.

  • Actually, social pressure is more powerful than the law, the law you can skirt, social pressure your neighbors eyes, those of ones relatives are on you….as to the kids, take them to a movie, go to the beach don’t teach them that the only thing that makes you happy are material things.

  • Whether due to the economy, or just burn-out from the consumerist orgy, there seems to be a sea change around Christmas up here. Although this is just anecdotal, where I live, in Vermont, there has been a marked decrease in Christmas lights and decorations, even from homes which before now have been noted for their lavish displays. Likewise, downtown was not nearly so crowded with desperate shoppers in the days leading up to Christmas. Rather than buy needless and useless crap, between Christmas and New Years our extended family gets together for a “Yankee Swap,” where we exchange regifted, old, and “joke” items. The rules of this exchange, where numbers are given out, and the higher numbers have to give up their presents to those receiving lower numbers in a forced exchange, are sometimes downright mean, but it is all in “fun.” The important thing is for family to be together, enjoy each other’s company–and PIG OUT! Incidentally, I remember the epoch when Christmas was on the way out in Cuba, in the mid- to late-1960’s. Guajiro families in Aguacate, for example, still bought as many simple, low-cost, toys for their kids as they could afford, but this was looked on askance by the authorities.

  • Does anyone force you to buy gifts for them? If you want to simply exchange hugs and sit around singing kumbaya, go for it. Personally, I like seeing the look on my kids faces when they open their gifts. To each his own.

  • Christmas is about selling products, religion was erased by capitalis consumption, just like mother’s day and other holidays which are promoted by commercial enterprises, people get indebted, the poor feel iandequqte if they don’t buy their kids the latest popular toy….. why not a season of amistad, solidariad? Where people gather and celebrate family together without having to buy anything?

  • Think about this for a minute. What kind of minds cancel Christmas in the first place? Worse yet, a leadership that enforces this action through threats of loss of employment or government favor? The Castro boys, when they get to the Pearly Gates, in the inimitable words of another famous Cuban Ricky Ricardo, “got some ‘splainin’ to do”.

  • Yes indeed, Christmas was banned in Cuba:

    However, during his pastoral visit to Cuba in 1997, Blessed Pope John Paul II asked Cuban president Fidel Castro to reinstate Christmas as a holiday, and the request was granted. One year later it was made an official law.

    “The people welcomed this decision with joy,” the editors wrote, but since 29 years had passed since the last public celebration of Christmas in 1968, there was now an entire generation of Cubans who had no experience of it.

    “Christmas was reinstated as a holiday, but this is not enough to recover the spirit of Christmas that characterizes these days and that is a part of the western world to which Cuba belongs.”

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