From the BridgeCelebrating La Navidad CubanaBefore the fall of Batista, Cuba was considered to be a staunch Catholic Nation. As in other Christian countries, Christmas was considered a religious holiday. In 1962, a few years after the revolution, Cuba became an atheist country by government decree. Then In 1969, Fidel Castro thinking that Christmas was interfering with the production of sugar cane, totally removed the holiday from the official calendar. Of course Christmas was still celebrated by Cubans in exile, many of whom live in South Florida and Union City, NJ. However it was still was celebrated clandestinely in a subdued way on the island. It was said, if it is to believed, that part of the reason for this was due to the fact that Christmas trees do not grow in Cuba. Now that Christianity and Christmas have both been reestablished by the government, primarily due to the Pope’s visits to Cuba, Christmas as a holiday has been reinstated.Many Christmas traditions have been lost over the past five decades and are still not observed in Cuba, although the Cuban Christmas feast is highlighted by a festive Pig Roast, called the Cena de Navidad or Christmas dinner. Where possible, the dinner includes Roast Pork done on a spit, beans, plantains, rice and mojo which is a type of marinade with onions, garlic and sour orange. Being a special event, some Cubans delight in serving the roasted pork, in fancier ways than others. Desserts like sweet potatos, turrones or nougats, buñuelos or fritters, as well as readily available tropical fruits and nuts hazelnuts, guava and coconuts, are very common at most Christmas dinners. Beverages such as the Mojito a drink made of rum, sugar cane juice, lime, carbonated water and mint, is the main alcoholic drink for the evening, although traditionally the Christmas dinner should be concluded by drinking wine. This grand Christmas dinner is considered a special annual occasion, for families and friends to join together. Following this glorious meal, many Cubans will attend Misa de Gallo or mass of the rooster, which is held in most Catholic churches at midnight. The real reason for Christmas in Cuba, as elsewhere, is to celebrate the birth of Christ. Churches and some Cuban families once again, display manger scenes. Traditionally, children receive presents from the Three Wise Men and not from Santa Claus or the parents. Epiphany or Three King’s Day, falls on January 6th. Christmas in Cuba has become more festive but is not yet the same as it used to be. Although Christmas day is again considered a legal holiday in Cuba, children still have to attend school on this holiday and stores, restaurants and markets stay open for regular business. Christmas trees and decorations are usually only displayed at upscale hotels and resorts.
Hank Bracker