Christmas celebrations may first begun 1700 years ago. But in Cuba, Christmas didn’t officially begin again until Pope John Paul II visited Cuba in 1998! Well to be more accurate it had a 29 year hiatus. Because in 1969 Fidel Castro removed it from the official list of Cuban holidays. He regarded Christmas as unnecessary due to its Christian origins. Plus it was contra to the socialist ideals of the new Cuba.
But a tropical Christmas is something everyone should experience once in their lifetime. And spending a Christmas in Cuba is the best the way to do this.
In Cuba, Chistmas is a time to spend time with your family and maybe go to mass., However it’s not as commercialised as in other parts of the world. You could say it’s the true essence of Christmas.
So what else can you expect if you’re lucky enough to spend the festive season in Cuba?
Christmas in Cuba: It Starts With a Parade
While there are Christmas parades throughout Latin America, one of the most lively is in Cuba. The town of Remedios is the place to go for a real Christmas parade experience, known as Las Parrandas.
The story goes that in 1820, a young priest named Francisco Vigil de Quiñones noticed a concerning trend. Fewer parishioners were attending midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Concerned, he devised a plan to enlist the children of Remedios. He told them to make a god awful racket on the evening of December 24th. This essentially harassed the town’s residents into attending mass.
Today, the Parrandas de Remedios features a fierce inter-neighborhood rivalry between El Carmen (the hawk) and San Salvador (the rooster). The neighborhoods compete to create the most elaborate floats, costumes, and music.
In recent years, restrictions on religion have been relaxed in Cuba and church attendance is rising accordingly. However, many Cubans still only attend church on key dates such as Christmas and Easter. Good Friday only became a public holiday again in 2012 after Pope Benedict XVI visited Cuba.
Christmas Dinner in Cuba
Christmas in Cuba bears some resemblance to the festivities in the US and Europe. But the similarities don’t extend to the dining room table. Food rationing is still a thing in Cuba. Therefore many families will begin to collect food for Christmas weeks in advance. The traditional turkey is replaced by pork on a spit as the dish of choice, if a family can afford it.
An whole pig is roasted on a spit, often marinated with garlic and citrus juices. It’s lip-smackingly good and we recommend you try it. Unless of course you’re vegan or vegetarian! And if you miss out pig on a spit is also a thing on New Years Eve and New Years Day.
Christmas on the Beach?
Typical December temperatures in Cuba are generally around 27°C (80°F). Meaning you could easily spend Christmas on the beach if you were so inclined. And as we know Cuba has an abundance of great beaches to choose from!
Cubans sure love to party so remember New Year’s Eve is just around the corner.