In my family Christmas was the most anticipated and desired holiday. For us, the Christmas spirit stared on the last Thursday in November (Thanksgiving Day), with the lighting of the tree and the display of the Nativity scene, and continued through Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Year’s Day, until the Day of the Three Kings — Epiphany.
The doorways of Galiana, Reina, Monte and other shopping streets were filled with natural pines of all sizes, brought from Canada and the United States, which filled the air with the aroma of resin and wood. In addition to apples and pears — available year-round — came from California in wooden boxes with each fruit wrapped in purple Chinese paper), were piled up, competing with white and purple grapes from the same source. Stands were erected on the corners to sell caramel apples and roasted chestnuts, the latter from Spain, along with wines, ciders and champagnes, and nougat in different size wooden boxes, imitations of the old boxes that were used to pack merchandise on boats, with the brands woodburned into them in sepia.
Local quinces in multiple colors also appeared, along with papaya and orange wines, Red Seal nuts and hazelnuts, and dates and figs from Arabia. The stores and streets were decorated, filled with colored lights and Christmas carols, including even the most modest shops in the poorest neighborhoods: it was a fiesta for everyone.
As Christmas Eve approached, pigs, guinea fowl and turkeys appeared — the main dishes of the dinners on the 24th and 25th. From the 23rd the bakeries were overwhelmed, roasting the pigs in their overs, and impregnating the city with their characteristic aroma. There was constant movement, on foot and by vehicle, traveling to the traditional Cuban family dinners, where everyone made an appearance regardless of where they lived. After dinner people went to midnight mass — called the Mass of the Rooster — in the nearest church, where at midnight the figure of the baby Jesus was placed in the manger, empty up to that point.
Christmas Day was for a family lunch of left-over roast turkey from the night before, a walk in the afternoon to the movies or the circuses scattered around the city: Ringling Brothers at Paseo and Malecon, the Santos y Artigas at Infanta and San Lazaro, and the Razzore at Cerrato and Orbay in Infanta, to mention only the most important.
The 31st was more of a night for clubs, cabarets and restaurants, and parties at the recreational societies, with twelve chimes and twelve grapes at midnight, and cups of cider or champagne, to say goodbye to the year that was leaving and hello to the one coming in, with a toast. New Year’s Day lunch was late, after sleeping off the hangover, with chicken, salads, nuts, hazelnuts, nougat and wine, and the evening was for showing off one’s new clothes and shoes and promenading.
The night before Epiphany belonged the grown-ups, first buying the latest toys, at bargain prices, in the doorways of the shopping streets, and then quietly placing them next to the beds of the children, who had gone to bed early to wait for them. Three Kings Day belonged totally to the children, waking early while it was still dark, and being excited and rowdy until dusk. With January 6th the Christmas holidays ended..
Today these traditions, forgotten (and even banned) for too long, are slowing being taken up again, as a necessary return to our roots. The multitudinous hosts to the Virgin of Charity of Cobre during her tour around the country last year, was a great sign that the wind that has blown over all these years may have left the trees leafless, without fruit and even no branches, but it could not uproot them and, despite everything, they are being reborn. I hope the same happens with Christmas. It always was, and should be again, the holiday for everyone.
Translated from Diario de Cuba
23 December 2012