Cuba is the ideal destination to have a different Christmas that you will never forget, to know the customs of a unique country, so close and so different at the same time. In Cuba, there is not just one way to enjoy Christmas; for the very religious, they follow the traditions, for the santeros, it is an opportunity for renewal and for the majority of the population, it is an occasion to celebrate with family and friends..
Christmas in Cuba is always a special experience. By staying in casas particulares, Cuba’s version of a bed and breakfast, you will have the opportunity to get to know a Cuban family with which to share the celebrations. These houses are home to the essence of Cuban culture and the hospitality of its owners who, at Christmas, often gather as a family to welcome in the new year together.
The dinner on December 31st is the most special, it is the moment in which Cubans say goodbye to the year that is coming to an end and welcome the new. The streets are filled with festivities and fireworks fill the Havana sky and the paladares offer their special menus on this date. The sunset from the terrace of La Guarida or with the special menu of El Atelier is a delight, caressed by the good temperature of the Caribbean at this time.
The Buena Vista Social Club organizes an unforgettable night in the purest Cuban style every year. This venue, which also gave name to a famous music group of the nineties, is the authentic reflection of traditional Cuban music and dance and the ideal place to receive the New Year and soak up the best of Havana .
“It was the most special and different New Year’s Eve of our life. We welcomed the new year to the rhythm of salsa and an exquisite dinner. Without a doubt, one night we will never forget “
In the Plaza de la Catedral there is one of the most spectacular New Year’s Eve celebrations in Havana. The square is decorated for this occasion and closed to the public to offer a private event of colonial atmosphere. An exclusive dinner and music concerts are held to make this night the most special of the year.
New Year’s Eve and New Year Day in Cuba
In Cuba, there is a unique occasion in the world on December 31st and January 1st. The celebration of the new year is marks the triumph of the revolution. It was precisely on January 1, 1959 when the bearded revolutionaries arrived in Havana and took power. For this reason, being in Havana on Day 1 is the opportunity to witness the entire military deployment of the revolution. Events and celebrations through the streets, an experience that mixes the propaganda, the memory, the party and the hangover from the previous day. No doubt a day that mixes emotions, memories, feelings, hints of history and remnants of nostalgia. A day that does not leave indifferent those who can live.
Christmas 2018 in Cuba
The perfect Christmas in Havana includes, of course, paradisiacal beaches, incredible natural landscapes, cities with centuries of history and, of course, the best restaurants of traditional Cuban cuisine. All wrapped in a festive atmosphere and celebration that nobody embodies better than Cubans.
The historical center of Havana and its system of colonial fortifications is a must for those who want to know better the history of this city. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1982 when it was considered a type of sculpture that masterfully illustrated a significant historical stage and, at the same time, being an example of a society that has faced a multitude of irreversible changes throughout its history.
Old Havana is one of the most interesting historical centers of the Caribbean area. It is the perfect mixture between tradition and future, with the architectural monuments that delimit the Plaza de Armas, the Cathedral, the Plaza de San Francisco, the Capitol or the Plaza Vieja. Here you can breathe a special atmosphere, they are buildings that have seen history go by but at the same time they are the neuralgic center of the city, where most of the administrative, commercial and cultural activities are carried out and which are brimming with life, especially In Christmas.
For Cubans, food is one of their greatest treasures. Since 1963 the country is governed by a system of food rationing, put in place to overcome the shortage of products that caused the economic embargo of the United States. In this way, a basic basket for all its inhabitants is guaranteed, which contains monthly amounts of rice, beans, coffee, eggs, sugar and oil.
Visiting the Bodega de Alimentos is a way of knowing how food is rationed in Havana and understanding its gastronomy. Against all odds, this imitation in the food has not prevented them from creating a concept of “restaurant” that is atypical in our culture but that is the most attractive in Cuba and is famous all over the world, they are called Paladares. If something characterizes Cubans, it is their desire to excel, to overcome obstacles and their ability to enjoy the small pleasures of life.
With this attitude and philosophy, they created this new gastronomic concept, which does not exist anywhere else in the world except in Cuba. Undoubtedly the best place to enjoy the human quality and closeness of the Cubans and taste their exquisite food are the Paladares. It is a local gastronomic proposal, restaurants run by families and individuals that offer typical food of Cuba, often in the owner’s own houses. Although the majority follows this intimate and homemade model, there are also some that have gained renown and fame within the Cuban restoration and even offer Italian cuisine in an effort to internationalize.
This phenomenon of the Paladares has spread throughout the island, also reaching the city of Trinidad, the colonial jewel of Cuba. Its old town is an authentic open-air museum and has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, so it is worth visiting the streets of this city. Another of its attractions are its houses, all with brightly painted facades, which flood the city with an atmosphere of color and joy that also spreads to its inhabitants and everyone who visits it.
What to see and do at Christmas in Cuba
Another advantage of spending Christmas in Cuba is that its warm climate allows visiting and enjoying all the places with the most tourist attraction in the country. One such place is Las Terrazas, a nature reserve that has been declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO and one of the oldest coffee plantations in the country. This is an opportunity to discover a natural place outside the convulsive life of the center of the city and to know first hand one of the sources of life of the Cuban population, such as coffee, and its form of exploitation. To visit this reserve is not only to contemplate the beauty of the landscape, but to go in and discover how a plantation of these characteristics is managed.
The beaches of the island are an indisputable attraction and more so at Christmas time. The Caribbean has the best beaches in the world and being able to enjoy them at Christmas is a luxury and an experience worth living. In general, we do not associate going to the beach and sunbathing with Christmas, and yet it is a different way to enjoy this special time of year. A Christmas in Cuba would not be the same without visiting its wonderful beaches, famous for its fine white sand and transparent waters.
“In Cuba, we have spent the Christmas of our lives. It has been wonderful to say goodbye to the year on those beaches and with such a pleasant temperature “
In addition to the best-known beaches such as Varadero, one recommendation is to visit the beaches preferred by the habaneros. Las Playas del Este is located 18 kilometers east of the city of Havana, as its name indicates, and it is a sandy area where the six most visited beaches are located by the Havana locals: Bacuranao, Tarará, the Megano, Santa Maria del Mar, Boca Ciega and Guanabo. The beaches are connected to the city by the Vía Blanca, so it is very easy to reach them. Each of the beaches has its own characteristics, charms and unique attractions.
How Cubans live Christmas
Because of its historical trajectory, Cuban Christmas is not as linked to religion as it is in our culture. According to tradition, December 24th is celebrated on Christmas Eve and the 31st or New Year’s Eve, the year is dismissed and the arrival of the new one is expected. The visit of Pope John Paul II marked a before and after in the religious opening that was already taking place on the island. In 1997, the government declared Christmas a holiday in honor of the Pope’s next visit in 1998. The following year, on December 25, this day was officially declared a national holiday.
Christmas as such began to be celebrate from 2009 onwards, when you begin to see Christmas decorations in the streets, Cuban Santa Claus and some Christmas tree in the houses. Families, in most cases, do not have much purchasing power, so they can not afford the excessive amount of expenses surrounding these dates. However, their biggest celebration is to gather the whole family, whenever possible, around a table with a good meal to enjoy the simple pleasure of being together.
At this time of year, the most important thing for Cubans is to be with family and celebrate these dates with a good meal or dinner together. And in all the houses of an effort so that the food that is served at the table is the most special of the year. In some households, chicken, turkey or pork may be allowed to dine, but most of them eat rice, black beans, cassava with mojo and a piece of pork.
The Cubans feel a predilection for rhythm and they celebrate everything by singing and dancing in the open air, making everyone part of their particular party. If music and dance are already protagonists in the streets of Havana during the year, at Christmas this festive atmosphere is even more present. Cubans carry the rhythm in their blood and it is their most deeply rooted form of expression. To walk through the streets of Havana at Christmas is to be enveloped by an atmosphere of cheerfulness and enthusiasm for all the good things that the new year will bring.
Apart from dancing and music, Cubans have another series of customs or rites that they practice to get rid of the bad and leave space to all the positive things, which they associate with the change of year. Since getting knowing its inhabitants is one of the ways to understand a country, we think it is worth making a little tour of some of these customs.
The habit of burning a doll represents a way of leaving behind the negative, which is consumed until it disappears just as the flames consume the doll. It consists of a kind of purge for the year that enters and usually takes the name of the villain of the soap opera that at that moment is fashionable in the country. Also in this doll are left signs or messages of denunciation as relief before the political and social situation of the country.
The occasions of celebration and festivities, such as Christmas in Cuba, become a moment of respite and of time for forgiveness, to forget and turn the page. This fact is not so far from the American religious tradition. Cubans live these days with more intensity and from an introspective perspective and union with others. These days Cuba is full of good feelings, fraternity, dances in the streets and family gatherings. It is a magical moment to discover the most authentic Cuba and at Espíritu Travel we help you design the best Christmas in Cuba.