Some people enjoy a traditional Christmas every year. They wouldn’t entertain the thought of going to someone else’s house, let alone another country! However, if you are someone who has more of a taste for adventure, why not take a trip to Cuba? In this post, we will tell you everything you need to know about visiting Havana for a unique Christmas.
Christmas is a new holiday in Cuba
If you want to be able to walk down the street without Christmas being shoved in your face, Havana is a great place to spend Christmas. In fact, New Year’s Eve is a bigger celebration than Christmas in Cuba. This is because Christmas was banned until recently.
Although Cuba is a Latin American country that has deep roots in Catholicism, a lot of people do not massively celebrate Christmas. For some people, it represents commercialism, and so they don’t indulge in festivities as much as other parts of the world.
So, if you want to avoid the commercial side of Christmas, you will really love Havana at this time of year.
As is the case with a lot of things in Cuba, there is a fascinating story behind Christmas not being the biggest event of the year. We’ll explain more about that in the next section. However, while Christmas is not the biggest event on the calendar, many people do still celebrate it and it is joyous occasion. It’s simply different from what you have come to expect from the US.
Why and when was Christmas banned in Cuba?
Like most things in Cuba, the story goes back to Fidel Castro. Before the revolution, Christmas in Cuba was like most Latin American countries. It was celebrated voraciously throughout December.
It was deemed a very important religious holiday. The commercialism of this time of year had not really made its way to the south of America.
However, the revolution changed everything. Christmas was abolished in 1969 by Fidel Castro. The ban was simple: Cuba was now an atheist country.
It is also worth noting that this time of year was sugar harvesting time in Cuba. Sugar is the most vital export for Cuba. so, when people stayed at home or went to church, it interfered with critical work that would support the communist government.
A religious holiday like Christmas was not considered necessary now the country was atheist. Of course, some devoted Catholics continued celebrating in privately, but a lot of people stopped all together.
Christmas was banned for almost three decades, until 1997. An entire generation of people were born without ever celebrating or evn knowing about Christmas.
Ahead of Pope John Paul II visiting Cuba, Fidel decided that Cubans could celebrate Christmas for one year only. The tactic was so effective that the Pope visited Cuba in 2012.
It’s fascinating to think that a holiday that has been such a staple in our lives was removed from Cuba altogether. So, it’s certainly interesting to talk to local people in Havana about Christmas and the history of it.
What does Christmas look like in Havana?
By now, you’re probably wondering what to expect when you walk the streets of Havana around Christmas. Will you even be able to recognize that a significant holiday is taking place?
Well, yes; there are decorations! And, everyone does have Christmas Day off work. Even those who do not believe in Christmas take the opportunity to spend time together as a family, so it really is a special day.
There are some lovely stores in Old Havana on Calle Obispo that start adorning their windows with fake fir garland and Christmas trees. You’ll even find the odd snowman!
If you do want to spend Christmas in Havana, you have to be willing to accept that a lot of traditions don’t happen here.
A lot of people love this because it means that Christmas is all about love, faith, and family. The commercial element really does not thrive in Cuba, which is a welcomed break for so many people.
- There are no formal Christmas tree lighting ceremonies
- People do not exchange presents
- No one sends Christmas cards
- There aren’t groups of people caroling in the streets
Of course, it all comes down to what you want from Christmas Day. If you love tradition, buying lots of presents, and engaging in the typical Christmas activities, you’ll probably be best staying in the US. But if you want something more relaxed, pure, and laidback, Havana could be just the place for you.
Can you eat out on Christmas Day in Havana?
Yes, you will be able to dine out at a restaurant in Havana. You can go shopping as well. This is because most of the restaurants and stores will remain open.
Christmas Eve in Havana
For Canadians and Americans, Christmas Day is the most important day of them all. However, this is not the case for everyone. In Cuba, Christmas Eve is probably more of a big deal.
Families will often get together on Christmas Eve, enjoy good food, play some games, and spend special time with each other. Some will go to church.
This is known as Nochebuena, which literally means “good night.” Nochebuena can differ from town to town, so do keep this in mind.
Can you go to midnight mass in Havana?
Yes, you most definitely can! Even though Christmas is more subdued in Havana, you can go to midnight mass, even if you do not understand Spanish or you’re not Catholic.
Resorts in Havana cater to foreign travelers at Christmas
Your choice of accommodation will have a massive influence on the type of Christmas you have while you are in Havana.
If you stay in one of the more tourist-style hotels, you can expect Christmas decorations, music, and traditional Christmas dinners. So, if you are looking for something a bit more conventional, this is probably the best way to go about it.
What is the weather like in Havana at Christmas?
December is considered one of the best times to visit Cuba. Dry season begins from the 1st of the month, and the hurricane season is finished. Plus, the humidity of the summer has drifted away.
The average temperature in December in Havana ranges from 27C / 81F throughout the day to 18C / 64F throughout the evening.
Visiting Havana for a unique Christmas
So there you have it: our complete guide to visiting Havana for a unique Christmas. If you want to enjoy an unforgettable, magical Christmas this year or in 2023, Havana can certainly provide it. You can read our post on six awesome things about Cuban Christmas to get an even better understanding of why a festive trip to this part of the world makes sense.