Christmas in Cuba 2002

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Thu Dec 26 18:05:27 MST 2002


CHRISTMAS IN CUBA 2002
by Walter Lippmann
CubaNews moderator
December 26, 2002

I took the day off yesterday and sent out nearly nothing to
friends or e-mail lists on Cuba. Indeed, Christmas day as I
observed it here in Cuba had no religious significance that
I could observe, not at least in the homes and streets I
saw. (I admit that I didn't go to church, but then, I'm not
a Christian and only go to church for a political meeting
held in one from time to time.) Here are a few words of
explanation about my own point of view, and some notes on
Christmas here in Cuba as the year 2002 draws to a close.

My personal ethnic and religious background is Jewish,
though I don't practice the Jewish or any other religion. In
the United States I've always found the Christmas period to
be overwhelming in many ways. Displays of sanctimonious
spirituality of the Christian variety, the omnipresent music
and such are a perennial reminder that I'm part of a group,
which doesn't belong to the dominant group. If I hadn't
remembered, Christmas as celebrated in the U.S. would be a
good reminder of this.

Then we also have the ritualized complaints about the
commercialization the holiday of the period are all part of
an effort infuse such kinds of religious expressions, even
when negatively referenced, on all of us. (When people ask
me about my own religious beliefs, I usually say something
along the lines of "I'm an atheist and, God willing, I
always will be..." <g>

And I can only begin to contemplate or imagine, and dread,
how Muslims in the United States must feel at a time like
this when thousands of their fellow-religionists are being
rounded up, jailed and deported by the right-wing Christian
fundamentalists running Washington today.

Organized religion, and above all that expressed through the
Roman Catholic Church, is by no means a powerful an
instruction, either politically or culturally, as it is in
the United States. The Roman Catholic Church got a momentary
boost in publicity and support during the period surrounding
the Pope's 1998 visit to the island. But these gains were
quite likely lost when the church was demonstratively silent
about the struggle to repatriate Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban
six-year-old whose kidnap and rescue united the entire Cuban
people .

The bigger celebration here in Cuba is Noche Buena (Good
Evening) during which Cubans make big meals for family and
friends. We had such a big meal where I stay, to which
friends and family were invited. People ate and overate.
People drank but no one got drunk. We had a bottle of rum,
which was bought to toast the Commander- in-Chief, Fidel
Castro, who had been laid up with an infected insect bite.
Fidel's remarks early in the month about the abuse of
alcohol hadn't lessoned anyone's desire for a drink, but at
in my home, no one got drunk, though everyone had a drink,
danced, and had a fun time. I led the brigade of cooks, but
many others did one or another thing to help out, and a
festive time was had by everyone.

I slept in on Christmas day and did nothing special. Cuban
television, which gets most of its world coverage from CNN,
transmitted the Pope's Christmas short (about three-minutes)
homily, and had some other images of life in various parts
of the world, but nothing in the way of Christmas commentary
of any kind.

Cuban TV in the afternoon showed the lovely John Sayles
movie THE SECRET OF ROAN INISH, in English with Spanish
subtitles which I tried to watch closely to add a bit more
to my Spanish vocabulary. Many of the pictures on Cuban TV
from the US, expecially on Saturday nights, are of the
violent shoot-em-up type that it was nice to see something
with a gentle and even lyrical spirit.

Later on I went out walking to a friend's home in Central
Havana. The streets were quiet but it was easy to see that
there was a festive spirit in the air. It being a legal
holiday, the big dollar stores were closed, but many
restaurants which cater to Cubans as well as those catering
to foreign visitors, were open and doing business.

None had "Feliz Navidad" (Merry Christmas) in their windows,
but many had "Feliz Ano 2003" signs, as well as hand-painted
signs with wreathes, linked paper-chains, and other items of
a seasonal nature. For most Cubans who have Christmas
threes, it seems to represent for them more of a festive and
seasonal thing, not connected with any religious observance.

Virtually all of these were hand-made, with care, suggesting
to me that people put serious effort into putting up nice
displays. Of course displays like these, mounted all year by
bodies such as the Committees to Defend the Revolution and
so on are typically done by volunteers and by hand as well.

I visited some friends and went to see a movie at the LA
RAMPA theater. It was a dreadful example of those awful US
cop-crime comedies, called SHOWTIME, starring Robert DeNiro,
Rene Russo and Eddie Murphy. The picture was atrocious and I
left early, after something like twenty minutes, after
having paid the sum of two Cuban pesos (under seven us
CENTS) to see the thing. Many Cuban theaters are showing US
movies, projected on the big screen, in better or worse
ways, from videos which cost Cuba little or nothing or
downloaded from the internet, or brought in by travelers
from the United States.

The evening's edition of the Mesa Redonda had more
information on the Miami Five. It featured an interview with
the former mayor of Pasadena, California, Bill Paparian, who
had visited the island the previous week.

Paparian spoke about the case, and about his visit with
Gerardo Hernandez, one of the five Cubans who have been
imprisoned for massive terms for their activities
investigating Cuban-American exile terrorist activities in
the South Florida area. Paparian spoke about the issues
which had been raised, and which now needed to be brought
forward, to help get the facts about the frame-up of the
five out to the people of the United States. They can make a
decisive contribution to freeing the five if the facts and
their meaning can be gotten to a large number in the United
States.

Each evening, Cuban television's main daily broadcast
provides a summary of the events of interest and importance
to its producers. Last evening's broadcast featured the
anchor, Rafael Serrano, reading the text of Fidel's
"Chronicle of a Repose", the partly-serious, partly humorous
message he'd sent to and which was published in the
Christmas edition of Granma newspaper.

Serrano, who television viewers in the US might roughly
equate with Walter Cronkite or Dan Rather, obviously was
enjoying the reading, smiling at the softly ironic ways in
which the leader of the Cuban revolution described his
disciplined obedience to his doctor's orders. (He'd
apparently been bitten by a bug, literally, and had
scratched it to infection.)

While the Cuban media has been preparing the people here for
potentially harder and more austere days ahead, due the Bush
administration's prospective invasion of Iraq and the
sabotage of the Venezuelan PDVSA oil industry by right wing
oppositionists, we had one bit of genuinely good political
news:

The Chavez leadership of the Venezuelan government announced
measures to move ahead and deepen the Bolivarian process by
removing the saboteurs from the national oil industry and
resuming production of the country's most precious
commercial asset: petroleum.

I've prepared some additional comments on the US media's
coverage of Christmastime in the Cuban capital, which will
be going out to readers separately. Those commentaries are
invariably negative, falsely suggesting that the religious
observance of the holiday had been banned in the past. They
also try to imply that Cuba is observing Christmas in the
same vulgarly commercial manner that is seeing the United
States. I'm not quite sure what to make of that, maybe it's
a "misery loves company" thing, but I've got some detailed
comments, which I'll be sharing with readers here as well.

Karen Lee Wald, the activist-journalist- teacher who has
devoted most of her adult life to working in defense of the
Cuban Revolution has sent out her own comments on some of
the media stuff, and that will be coming along shortly. Stay
tuned.

Those of you who want a more complete set of news on Cuba
can get the full series of news articles and commentaries at
this web address where you can always find the current
thirty at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CubaNews/messages

Walter Lippmann, Moderator, CubaNews list
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CubaNews/


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