Christmas in Cuba is very much a family-oriented holiday and gifts are not as important as spending time together. Roasted suckling pig is the traditional dish served for Christmas lunch. Parrandas – parties in the street with fireworks, floats, and dancing – are a common part of Christmas celebrations in Cuba.
This year in Cuba state-run stores, private restaurants, supermarkets, hotels, and many houses in Havana exhibit Christmas decorations. Many cars are also decorated as is the United States Interest Section in Havana, which will soon become an embassy following the reconciliation between Obama and Raúl Castro announced last week, which put an end to half a century of enmity. Stores sell Christmas baskets and an assortment of wines, liquor, and turrons. Both state and private restaurants are promoting their Christmas Eve dinner specials. Hotels such as Both Worlds where the American author Ernest Hemingway lived are also offering deals. Here you can get a four-course Christmas dinner served with mojitos for 40 U.S. dollars. The Christmas spirit has grown due to the reforms made by Raúl Castro. Santa Claus can be seen around Havana giving out gifts to children in the midst of the tropical heat.
Fidel Castro eliminated the Christmas holiday in Cuba in the 1960s in the time of tension with the Catholic Church and this prohibition lasted until 1998. During that time Christian families continued celebrating in private. Fidel Castro reinstated the holiday following the historic visit of Pope John Paul II to the island in 1998, but tolerance for religion became much more evident when Raúl Castro took power in 2006. Now bishops spread Christmas messages on television, which was unthinkable during Fidel Castro’s reign.
Many Cubans think that the end of enmity with Washington foreshadows economic progress on the island, which has tolerated many shortages. The historic step taken by Obama is seen as an early Christmas gift by many Cubans.
Cubans celebrate Christmas – and everything else – with dance. Check out this video on how Christmas in commonly celebrated in Cuba, to the saucy tune of salsa: