Self-employed Christmases / Yoani Sanchez #Cuba


Tiny plastic trees peek out here and there, with garlands saved from other years and a wire star at the top. Superb conifers with every little detail, placed in the lobby of some grand hotel or in the living rooms of residences in Miramar. Lights, colors, melodies that play over and over without end. On a street in Nuevo Vedado neighbors compete to see who can most-strikingly decorate their balcony railings or garden hedges. But there is also house after house, thousands of them, without a single detail relating to this December holiday. Perhaps because of atheism, or for lack of resources, or simply apathy towards the celebration.”Celebrate what?” many would say if asked.

This Christmas self-employed workers have made the year-end festivities their own. In the food stalls, the tiny rooms where trinkets are sold, and the private restaurants in Havana, there is a determination to decorate the spaces with images of Santa Claus, glass balls and twinkling lights. An explosion of colors and carols in the private service sector marks a big difference from the State-run counterpart. As if the excess of details and ornamentation were another way to distance themselves from the depersonalization of the many sites run by ministries and institutions. These visual excesses of today are very likely the popular response to all those Christmas eves celebrated in whispers, or totally ignored, in which a tree with a nativity scene constituted evidence of “ideological deviation.”

They also bring to mind a circular, today attributed to Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, banning Christmas trees in public places. A failed attempt to continue to regulate the way in which we say goodbye to the old year, one which, fortunately, could not be sustained for long. Those excesses of proscriptions and false austerity have led to the current exuberance. Many want the image of the Virgin and child in their living rooms, even if they don’t know whether to put hay or snow at the foot of the manger. On all sides there are bright red flowers, blinking lights, and plump faces topped by pointy hats. So many Decembers between the swings of “no we can’t” or “yes we can” have nurtured this Christmas frenzy. Now few want to leave the garlands safe in their boxes, or the five pointed stars in the back of some drawer.

17 December 2012