Christmas Celebrations in Cuba?

By Irina Pino

A typical Cuban dinner for New Years, budget allowing. Photo: Elio Delgado Valdes

HAVANA TIMES — It’s common for us Cubans to throw parties on December 31st, the last day of the year, but Christmas is a special religious event that begins beforehand and involves putting up decorations on a tree to the so-called “Midnight mass”, where the devoted congregate in churches to commemorate the baby Jesus’ birth.

Here in Cuba, these celebrations were banned for a long time but they gained new life in the ‘90s, I remember going to the midnight Mass with a friend and I loved it. That time, cups of hot chocolate, sandwiches and sweets were handed out after the religious ceremony.

In spite of everything, some people are able to put together a decent meal on December 24th, put up a beautiful lit-up tree in their home and yet there still isn’t that festive spirit on the street: an enveloping darkness prevails, you can’t hear Christmas carols, there aren’t any Santa Clauses at store entrances giving presents out to children…, you can only see employees wearing ridiculous looking bobble hats at certain state-run stores where they pretend to give good customer service.

Sales or discounts aren’t given because it’s the end of the year; on the contrary, food continues to be expensive and in shortage. A friend told me that there had been a discount on pork at a market near her home and that after people bought it, they had to return it because of the rotting state it was in.

She went out to look for food and the only thing she could find were some huge frozen turkeys which didn’t cost anything less than 50 CUC (55 USD), which is completely out of any ordinary Cuban’s reach, at a store on 5th and 42nd streets. (The average salary here doesn’t reach 25 CUC).

Turron sweets that sit all year round in shop windows aren’t reduced in the slightest, they cost nearly 4 CUC and a bottle of red wine costs 6 CUC or more. Apples are tiny and poor quality and cost 0.55 cents each. That is to say, if you don’t have lots of money, in Cuban terms, you won’t be able to set a dinner table like you should at this time of year.

My mother tells me that in her family they always had a turkey, cider and the twelve grapes that you would eat before midnight, even though they were extremely poor.

On the other hand, there are people who don’t care about celebrating anything at all because of the majority of their family emigrated, their families are broken, and those who stayed behind don’t feel like celebrating any more. Like me. I spent my dinner on the 24th dancing to rock music at the Casa de la Amistad with some friends.

Many families are devastated, the hurricane carried away their homes and they are left stuck in temporary shelters. What are those people going to want to celebrate?

However, not everyone is suffering the same hardship, some sectors of the population are having a great party, Christmas is a time of luxury, of colors, of lots of presents under a sparkling Christmas tree with a star on top.

Like the folk singer Silvio Rodriguez’s song says: “some celebrate their millions, others, having clean clothes, and there people who don’t even know what it is to raise their glasses up to toast…”

Irina Pino

Irina Pino: I was born in the middle of shortages in those sixties that marked so many patterns in the world. Although I currently live in Miramar, I miss the city center with its cinemas and theaters, and the bohemian atmosphere of Old Havana, where I often go. Writing is the essential thing in my life, be it poetry, fiction or articles, a communion of ideas that identifies me. With my family and my friends, I get my share of happiness.