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?