How did Cubans celebrate Christmas?
Christmas, as a party and family time, was forbidden for 30 years in Cuba. No-one could have a tree or mistletoe in their homes, they were against the socialist rules. But that was 15 years ago; nowadays the tropical island seems to celebrate it in a different way.
Can you imagine celebrating Christmas Eve at 28 degrees, wearing shorts and linen shirts? That is hard to imagine in the cold days of the European winter. Yet the good news is that you can live this experience; in the same hemisphere, Cuba would be certainly a piece of heaven on Christmas day.
As a prominent catholic country, Cuban people use to celebrate Christmas as any other country. In fact, by 1950 Havana was famous for Christmas parties and dinners. It was joy and parties everywhere; famous Hollywood artists moved into Havana to “see in” the New Year in the festive and warm capital city. However, things changed in the following decades. In 1969 Fidel Castro dramatically abolished Christmas because it interfered with the sugar harvest. Cubans weren’t allowed to enjoy or celebrate “Noche Buena” (Christmas Eve in Spanish). However, family members used to have a special dinner on 24th of December, but nothing too striking. It wasn’t until 1998 when Castro declared Christmas a national holiday as a gesture of goodwill in honour of Pope John Paul II’s visit. After the Pope’s visit Castro recognized the holiday again but it still remains a very low key celebration.
After 1998 Christmas in Cuba became more festive but nothing like it used to be. Also churches, which normally carry and explain many of the traditions during Christmas, were stranded for money. But in the past few years external influences as European tourism and Cubans living “outside” the island are bringing back the traditional festivities.
After 1998 Christmas in Cuba became more festive but nothing like it used to be. Also churches, which normally carry and explain many of the traditions during Christmas, were stranded for money. But in the past few years external influences as European tourism and Cubans living “outside” the island are bringing back the traditional festivities. Today we do have Christmas! The cities aren’t very ornate and stores don’t provide a wide stock for Christmas’s preparations, but we are still managing to serve a tasty dinner though; on the 24th people wake up looking forward to make that night an unforgettable one.
A traditional Cuban Christmas meal? Well, we don’t have turkey that day, we go further and tasty: the starring role goes to the roasted pig. It’s almost compulsory…you wouldn’t have a Christmas’s meal in Cuba without a piece of juicy and delicious roast pork. Along with it we had black beans, white rice, “yuca con mojo” (mojo is a type of marinade with garlic, onions and sour orange), vegetable salads, fried plantain and of course, lots of desserts.
Christmas dinner is also the perfect time to catch up and update. The party starts early in the afternoon, and everyone brings something to the table. Music, dancing, beers and mojitos cannot be missing, of course. For desserts it is very traditional home made “cascos” of orange, guava and grapefruit (skin in sweet and heavy syrup); baskets of “buñuelos” (fried sweet dough), “flan” (a type of pudding made by egg and milk) and “turrones” (a nougat made of nuts and honey).
A tip for our visitors
Also many restaurants prepare special meals for that day. One of the greatest experiences you can enjoy while being in Cuba those days is the spectacular Christmas dinner at the Cathedral; every year it’s becoming more and more joyful and outstanding. Like a tradition it’s seems that Old Havana reborn that day…literally!
Havana's Cathedral in Christmas
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