Cuban Christmas

Christmas in Cuba

Figure 1. Map of Cuba. Microsoft Encarta



            Cubans celebrate Christmas in unique ways that they have added to make the celebration more a part of their society. They do have similarities of how they celebrate Christmas and how the rest of the world celebrates Christmas but they also have their differences. The differences between Cuba and the rest of the world on how Christmas is celebrated is what gives Christmas in Cuba a unique touch of identity only found in Cuba. Since Christmas was banned in Cuba for such a long time, it has also given the people of Cuba a unique idea of how important Christmas is to them. By adding their own traditions and customs the Cuban people have embraced this celebration and adapted it to fit there needs.



Figure 2. People at a Christmas Celebratin in Cuba. Figure 3. Roasting a pig at a Cuban Christmas celebration.


         In 1969, Cuba officially banned Christmas in order for people to work longer in the sugar cane fields (Have a Cuban Christmas). Anything related to the Christmas holiday was forbidden to be sold and families were not permitted to have Christmas trees in their house. In 1997, the Cuban government lifted the ban on Christmas and people could freely celebrate the holiday (Have a Cuban Christmas). Technology has also been accredited for the ban being lifted on Christmas because now machines are able to harvest sugar cane (Ojito). Even though Christmas was not officially allowed to be celebrated for many years in Cuba people found ways to carry on traditions and celebrate the holiday. Now that the ban has been lifted they are allowed to celebrate publicly and no longer fear punishment for celebrating Christmas. The tradition of Christmas and the ways Cubans celebrate Christmas have never been lost and today those celebrations and traditions thrive more then ever. Since the ban on Christmas was removed, people have begun to celebrate Christmas but in limited ways. Due to Cuba’s economic situation, the Cuban people do not celebrate Christmas to the scale of Americans (Ojito). Though Christmas is celebrated across the world, since the end of the ban on Christmas celebrations in Cuba, Cuban citizens have acquired a greater appreciation for the holiday and have begun new traditions and customs for the holiday. By adding their own traditions and customs the this holiday they have created a way to celebrate Christmas that is only found in Cuba.


Context of Cuba

            Cuba is a country in the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, ninety miles from the coast of Key West, Florida. Cuba is an archipelago (Wikipedia); the main islands that make Cuba are the mainland called Cuba and the second largest island, which is Isla de la Juventud. There are many other smaller islands that are part of the Cuban archipelago as well. The capitol of Cuba is Havana.

            Cuba has many geographic features through out the country. The Sierra de los Organos, the Sierra de Trinidad, and the Sierra Maestras are three mountain ranges all found in Cuba (Geography). Cuba has beaches, coral reefs, and harbors on the north coast. The south side of Cuba’s coast is composed of swamps, coral reefs, and coral islands. Cuba has two hundred rivers but only two of the rivers allow access for ships (Geography). Cuba used to have many forests but now due to farming, only twenty percent of the land on Cuba is forested.

            The climate in Cuba is warm all year round. The average temperature does not fall below seventy degrees Fahrenheit in the coldest time of the year (Geography). Because the average temperature does not fall below seventy-three degrees Fahrenheit the climate in Cuba is classified as semitropical (The World Factbook-Cuba). Cuba experiences a rainy season of the year during the months of May to October (The World Factbook-Cuba). During the rainy season most of the annual rainfall that the island accumulates occurs during this time period.

            Before Cuba became an independent nation of its own in 1899, the people on Cuba had been under Spanish control since 1511 (The World Factbook-Cuba). While under Spain’s control, Cuba was used to produce sugar and coffee for exporting (The World Factbook-Cuba). Many slaves lived on Cuba so that the Spanish could run the business of exporting coffee and sugar. Spain remained in control of Cuba for about 400 years until the Spanish American War in 1898. The United States entered into war with Spain in Cuba and in the Philippines during this time. When the United States won the war, they forced Spain to leave Cuba. 1902 the Treaty of Paris gave Cuba its independence and allowed them to rule their own country (The World Factbook-Cuba). Fulgencio Batista y Zaldivar took over power in Cuba in 1934 by using military force (Infoplease). He remained in power and maintained control over Cuba by using his military power and exercising military dictatorship. In response to Batista’s control over Cuba in the middle of the 1950’s the Cuban Revolution began and Batista began to lose his power. After the revolution, Fidel Castro came into power and ruled over the country (Wikipedia). Fidel Castro turned Cuba into a communist nation in the early 1960’s and based his philosophies on Marxism (Infoplease). Fidel Castro remains in power today.



Origins of Christmas


          The origins of Christmas extend back to ancient times and many civilizations. In some civilizations Christmas was celebrated before Christ was born. Instead of celebrating the birth of Christ, ancient people would celebrate for other reasons and for other events. On December 25, Babylonians would celebrate the Son of Isis with a feast. Romans celebrated the Winter Solstice as a holiday, which they named Saturnalia in honor of the god Saturn (Wittman). In Europe, before Christ was born people celebrated a holiday known as Yule (Wittman). Yule was a holiday in honor of the Sun God Mithras’ birth (Wittman). The celebration for Mithra took place on December 25 as well (Elliott 20). Christmas became a holiday in the year 350 when Pope Julius I decided that Christ’s birthday would be celebrated on that date (Wittman). Others believe that the English really made Christmas popular in the world and in written text (Connelly 17) The original name of Christmas was Christ-Mass but the name has changed throughout past years. The name Christmas honors Christ himself and is why the holiday is known as Christmas. Christ Mass literally means the festival of the Nativity of Christ (Dawson 9) It is believed that Christmas was celebrated first in Germany, but the church to which it was associated with is still unknown (Wittman).




            Christmas is a holiday that has many observable elements that are a part of its celebration. The day before Christmas, many Cubans gather together with their families and have a feast to celebrate the occasion. The main course of the feast is roasted pig and is served with beans, rice, and plantains (Christmas Returns to Cuba). The principle of gathering together as a family during this holiday is the same as in the United States. The main difference between the feast in Cuba and the feast in the United States is the food that is served. In the United States, the traditional dinner would consist of either a turkey or a ham served along with mashed potatoes, green beans, and other dishes that we are used to. Although there are other variations in food that is eaten in the United States. In Cuba, roast pig served with beans, rice, and plantains is common and what the people are used to serving. It can be seen through the food the different culture and resources available to Cubans and people in the United States. The food might be different but the concept of the family coming together is the same, families spend time together and enjoy the holiday in each other’s company.

            In Cuba, the people have the same decorations that people throughout the world have. Cuban’s use ornamental lights outside their houses and on Christmas trees to celebrate Christmas. People try to buy real Christmas tress to decorate but very few actually have real trees because of the high cost. Instead, a more popular and more affordable alternative is to buy a plastic tree and decorated it with lights and hand made ornaments (Lippman). Having lights on the outside of a house or business is less common in Cuba than other places in the world especially the United States. In Cuba, it is uncommon to see many lights on the outside of a house (Lippman). This might be due to the ban on Christmas that was in place for so many years. While the ban was in affect many people were afraid to have trees in their houses much less have lights on their house (Lippman). This sentiment might have carried over to when the ban was lifted and people are not used to being allowed to celebrate Christmas in that manor.            

            The “posada” is another observable element to the Cuban celebration of Christmas (Christmas to be Observed in Cuba). Christmas caroling is the equivalent to the “posada” in the United States and the rest of the world. Children put on the “posada” each year and go around their neighborhoods singing Christmas songs and put on a skit to re-create the Virgin Mary’s search for an inn to give birth (Christmas to be Observed in Cuba). The “posada” is common in many Latin American countries but it is beginning to become more common to Cuba.



The artifact for this section is a Christmas tree. Having a Christmas in Cuba tree in Cuba is becoming more popular each year. This particular Christmas tree is decorated with ornaments and has gifts beneath it.                                                                                                                           




Prognosis for Christmas in Cuba

            The Christmas holiday in Cuba is increasing in popularity in recent years. When Fidel Castro lifted the ban on religions many people began to attend church again in Cuba. Since the ban has been lifted Catholic mass attendance rates have doubled and the baptisms they have performed have gone up three times as much before the ban was lifted (Paternostra, Larmer). Now that the Cuban people are attending church again, more people are also embracing the celebration of Christmas making it increase in popularity.



             Many places in the world celebrate Christmas, but no one can celebrate this holiday like the people of Cuba. Cubans have suffered through a long ban on Christmas in their country and came out of the ban with a stronger appreciation for the Christmas holiday. The traditions and new customs that the people of Cuba use in the celebration of Christmas clearly sets them apart from the other countries that celebrate Christmas. Through examination of the artifacts, meanings, family involvement, and an overall general observation of how Christmas is celebrated in Cuba one can see the uniqueness of a Cuban Christmas. There are similarities in how every culture and country celebrates Christmas. But each country and culture has minor differences and major differences in how Christmas is celebrated and Cuba is no exception to this. Christmas in Cuba is a holiday that the people have added their own traditions and customs to over the past years.


Internet References Cited

    Christmas Returns to Cuba. Electronic Document

    Cuba. Electronic Document Accessed October 15, 2004

                This site was created by Infoplease which is an encyclopedia. The purpose of this site is to provide a wide range of information on a many topics.

    Cuba. Electronic Document Accessed October 15, 2004

                This site was created by an online encyclopedia called Wikipedia. The purpose of their site is to provide information about a wide range of topics.

    Geography. Electronic Document Accessed October 15, 2004

                This site was created by a group called Beacon School. The purpose of the site is to provide general information about Cuba.

    Have a Cuban Christmas. Electronic Document Accessed September 19, 2004

                This site was created by three men living in Cuba. They created the site to inform people around the world on what Christmas in like in Cuba.

    Lippman, Walter.

    2002. Christmas in Cuba. Electronic Document Accessed October 15, 2004

                This site was created by Walter Lippmann. The purpose of the site is to discuss Christmas in Cuba and how it is celebrated in Cuba.

    The World Factbook-Cuba. Electronic Document Accessed September 19, 2004

                This site was created the by CIA which is controlled by the United States government. The purpose of this site is to educate people about other countries around the world.

    Wittmann, Kelly

    2002. Christmas’ Pagan Origins. Electronic Document  Accessed October 21, 2004

                This site was created by a group called Page Wise. Kelly Wittman wrote the article for their page. The purpose of this site is to better educate people on Christmas.


Peer-Reviewed References Cited

  • Christmas to be Observed in Cuba. Electronic Document Accessed October 18, 2004

  • Connelly, Mark

                1999    Christmas A Social History. London: I.B. Tauris Publishers

  • Dawson, W.F.

                1968    Christmas: Its Origins and Associations. Detroit: Gale Research Company

  • Elliot, Jock

                2001    Inventing Christmas. New York City: Harry N. Abrams Inc.

  • Ojito, Mirta

    1998. In Cuba, the Grinch Takes a Holiday. Electronic Document Accessed October 15, 2004

  • Paternostro, Silvana; Larmer, Brook

    The Battle for Cuba’s Soul. Electronic Document Accessed October 20, 2004


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