In Cuba, some still remember three decades of "silent Christmases"
Daniel A. Medina
December 25, 2014
Just a week after US president Barack Obama and Cuban president Raúl
Castro made history by announcing that the United States and Cuba would
normalize diplomatic relations, much focus in the American media has
been on the isolation that Cuba has lived in for over five decades.
Part of that isolation extended to Christmas. From 1969 to 1998, ending
with Pope John Paul II's visit to the island, Christmas was officially
banned by the government in a period known in Cuba as Las navidades
silenciadas or "The Silent Christmases."
Rebtel, a Swedish low-cost mobile carrier, this month released an
internet campaign, "The Lost Christmas," as part of its promotional
launch of a new service offering international calls to Cuban mobile and
landline phones. A company representative in Miami called and
interviewed five Cubans, whose surnames are not revealed, who had grown
up in this era. Many were children when Christmas on the island suddenly
"I remember my Uncle Antonio gave us a plastic old broken Christmas tree
which we kept hidden," says Angela, 59, of Havana. "I don't know how he
got it. We enjoyed the tree anyway, even if we couldn't light it at night."
Abel, 45, also of Havana, recalled: "My generation, those of us who grew
up in the 60s, lived with the myth of Christmas created for us in the
stories that our grandparents shared with us."
The reasons that Fidel Castro's government officially terminated
Christmas were both economic and political. In October 1969, in an
effort to fuel economic growth at a time of financial crisis, the
government announced an ambitious plan to boost the country's sugar cane
industry. The Zafra de los diez millones or "The ten million harvest"
was a national effort to export 10 million tons of sugar cane abroad. To
avoid interrupting the harvest, Christmas and New Year's celebrations
were moved to July and Dec. 25 became a normal working day.
Also during that period, the government was seeking to institutionalize
its secular revolution and saw religion and religious holidays as a
counter force to that national project, said Enrique Sacerio Garí, a
professor of Hispanic-American studies at Bryn Mawr College and an
expert on Cuba.
Garí, 69, grew up on the island during the early years of the "Lost
Christmas" period and has made dozens of trips back since he moved to
the US in the mid-1970s. He said he understood the sentiments expressed
by those interviewed in Rebtel's promotional campaign, but also said
they fail to tell the full story.
For one thing, he says, Christmas really came out from the shadows in
1991, when Communist party members were given permission to practice
religion openly. And, he explains, many Cubans maintained Christmas
customs even during the "Lost Christmas" period, such as the traditional
Christmas Eve dinner where lechón asado or roasted suckling pig is served.
In fact, Garí tells Quartz, in some ways Cuba's Christmas celebrations
have maintained the holiday's sincerity in ways that it has been lost
elsewhere. "Cuba differs from others in that, in this 30-year period,
Christmas was marketed around the world as a business, and the religious
aspect of it largely went away," he says. "Cuba wasn't part of that
commercialization of the holiday, so to speak."
Since Christmas returned as an officially recognized public holiday in
1998, Garí says, Cuba's "Lost Christmas" generation views the day as a
cultural spectacle, rather than a religious ritual. Cubans buy trees and
decorate them with ornaments, and sometimes even exchange gifts.
Source: In Cuba, some still remember three decades of "silent
Christmases" - Quartz -