Christmas in Cuba 2002

Juan Rafael Fajardo fajardos at
Fri Dec 27 12:25:45 MST 2002

> Date: Thu, 26 Dec 2002 17:05:27 -0800
> From: "Walter Lippmann"<walterlx at>
> Subject: Christmas in Cuba 2002

> 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.

That, to the surprise of most North Americans [meaning USA] in my
experience, is the case in Peru, Ecuador, and probably pretty much
everywhere in Latin America.  While nearly everyone is Catholic and
religious symbols are to be found in homes, on the streets, in taxicabs,
buses, and even in state ceremonies, the Church plays little direct role
in people's lives apart from the sacramental milestones (baptism, first
communion, etc.).  Most rarely go to mass, much less confession.
Regular church attendance averages less than 50% across the continent,
and most of those tend to be older women and women with young children.

Indeed while the Catholic Church has strong political influence, the
sort of stern-faced, finger-wagging religious involvement in politics
that is common with Protestant denominations in the US is
incomprehensible and abhorrent to Latin Americans.

> 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.

This, too is the norm.  Christmas Day is no big deal in Latin America or
Spain (perhaps in other "Catholic" countries as well?).  Adults spend it
sleeping off the Christmas Eve revelry, while children play with their
gifts and hunt around for unspent fireworks.

The tradition is that the families and friends gather in someone's home,
have dinner late --10, 11, even after midnight-- and "await the birth of
Christ".  At midnight everyone hugs and wishes one another a merry
Christmas, gifts are exchanged, and drinks passed around.  The truly
hardy then keep the festivities going until dawn.

In some locales, however, gifst are given only to children, and in some
--particularly rural communities which hold on to old ways-- these don't
arrive until January 6th, the date on which the Wise Men are
traditionally held to have arrived.  I have even know of families who
held that Baby Jesus would come on Christmas Eve night and leave gifts
in the shoes of all good boys and girls.

These competing traditions make it hard to commercialize the season to
the extent that has been possible in the US.  Christmas images of
snowmen and sleighs make little sense to Latin America in the full bloom
of the austral spring.   And if Santa brings presents, what about the
Wise Men?  And, who's San Nicolas, then?  And how would he, or they,
bring in the presents unnoticed when everyone is up and partying?

Nonetheless, ... Cuba!  What a great holiday gift, no matter which
tradition one comes from.

- Juan Fajardo

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