Direct commercial flights from many U.S. cities to Havana begin in November, so now is the time to plan your Christmas in Cuba.
Cuba’s Christmas celebration is changing along with so many other things as the country integrates and connects.
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Christmas Eve remains overshadowed among Cubans by the New Years’ celebration – which happens to coincide with the day of the 1959 revolution – although many Cubans get together with their families for dinner on the night before Christmas.
The traditional Rooster’s Mass (Shepherd’s Mass) is celebrated in some Catholic churches, including the Havana Cathedral, where Cardinal Jaime Ortega presides. The Roman Catholic Church maintains eleven cathedrals in Cuba.
Many homes display Christmas trees. Among more traditional Cuban homes, the table will be set with roast pork, turkey or chicken, as well as black beans and white rice (a dish known as “arroz congri”), a salad and boiled cassava with garlic, olive oil and bitter orange.
Traditional Christmas celebration is returning to the island nation driven by the influence of Cuban-Americans living in the United States and also by the Catholic Church itself. Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother and current President of Cuba, said at a press conference earlier this year, “The pontiff is a Jesuit, and I, in some way, am too. I always studied at Jesuit schools. I read all the speeches of the pope, his commentaries, and if the Pope continues this way, I will go back to praying and go back to the Church, and I’m not joking.”
Like so many other aspects of Cuba’s cultural expression, music has played an important role in holiday celebration.
Just in time for Christmas Eve, NPR’s World Cafe explores the tropics for a holiday-themed Latin Roots segment. Contributor Judy Cantor-Navas uses the occasion as an opportunity to look at Christmas in Cuba, with music from pre-revolutionary times until the present day.
Hear songs from the great Celia Cruz and more in this segment, and find even more to enjoy on Latin Roots‘ Cuban Christmas Spotify playlist.