Festive Cuba Becoming Even More Syncretic?

Dmitri Prieto

Volunteer Work in honor of Three Kings Day.

HAVANA TIMES — The photo is of the call for volunteer CDR community labor to mark Three Kings Day (January 6). It was taken in 2013 in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood.

Three Kings Day is the traditional Hispanic date for gift-giving at the end of the year. The “three wise men” (Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar) are the traditionalist equivalents to Santa Claus in areas where the geo-political-cultural balance of power is in favor of Hispanics.

Until the late nineteenth century, this was also the day that paraders from Afro-Cubans cabildos (councils) would take to the streets. This day is also even related to Cuba’s mysterious Abakua society, which some scholars believe was founded on that date.

During the period of revolution, the kings took a rather long vacation… as would other saints. At least, they couldn’t be seen on the street (this was once the case with the Spanish Embassy… but that’s another story).

In recent times there were no indications that the holiday schedule had changed, but… suddenly the Cuban custom of mixing ideas and spirituality prevailed once again.

In at least one CDR in Havana (see photo) they conducted a children’s raffle (is it valid to stimulate [hyper] competition to promote the market?) to encourage voluntary participation in community labor (is it valid to stimulate [hyper] competition for promote solidary sharing?) this past January 6.

This is a mixture of two traditions: one of activism within a neighborhood organization whose essential historical purpose many people question today, and another one based on a syncretic spirituality whose preservation surely no one has “ordered.”

On the other hand, in higher-income neighborhoods, Halloween is now celebrated (this has nothing to do with Cuba’s Afro-Cuban Abakuas or Mexico’s “Day of the Dead”).

Now, since Christmas is an official holiday again, many families that were always atheist and “revolutionary” gather for dinner on Christmas Eve.

So what is tradition? Where are they kept when they seem to no longer exist? And how do they keep reappearing?

And above all: For whom is tradition useful?


Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.

Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov has 254 posts and counting. See all posts by Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

One thought on “Festive Cuba Becoming Even More Syncretic?

  • Among my Cuban friends, celebrating western holidays with gift giving is largely a measure of economic standing. December 31 or ‘Fin de Ano’ is really the only non-governmental holiday celebrated by ALL Cubans and gifts are very seldom exchanged. I was surprised to learn during my first year in Cuba that the requisite exchanging of gifts, especially for birthdays, that I was accustomed to here in the US was rare and unexpected in Cuba. The Castros, by directly forbidding judeo-christian practices or indirectly, through their destruction of the economy, have quashed gift-giving traditions. As a result, when Cubans bring gifts to quince parties, or retirement celebrations or even birthdays, it is a sign of their improved economic status. House-warmings, wedding and baby announcements, and marriage engagements go largely uncelebrated. ‘Savage’ capitalism may leave a lot to be desired, but we love to give each other gifts.Giving and receiving gifts, even inexpensive ones, is undeniably fun. Castros’ socialism, by comparison, is just boooooring!

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