Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. - http://www.cubafreepress.org

December 28, 1998, Cuba Free Press.

MOST PEOPLE CAN'T REMEMBER WHAT CHRISTMAS STOOD FOR, SO WHAT MORE COULD THEY WISH FOR? By Efrén Martínez Pulgarón, Cuba Free Press.

HAVANA - Most Cubans welcomed the official news of the Christmas holiday this year, even though there was no longer the traditional feeling of celebration because of the lack of knowledge of the Christian meaning of the Nativity.

That's the heritage of the communists, in power for 40 years, who made sure to bury the meaning through a forced atheist re-education and high dosages of Marxism-Leninism.

Nevertheless, on November 30, when the Communist Party officially authorized the celebration of Christmas, Cubans readied themselves to celebrate this date, which officially had disappeared from the calendar as of 1969.

Fidel Castro's government had allowed, in 1997, Christmas as "an exception" because of the imminent trip of his Holiness, Pope John Paul II to Cuba.

The 1969 action began with the excuse of maximizing work time, for the so-called "10 Million Harvest" in "The Year of the Decisive Effort" (1969). That followed the communist practice of labeling each year with a different slogan. That year the Communist Party suspended all types of religious festivities, even the "Three Kings Day" of presents for the children.

The great mobilization of people for the sugar cane harvest became part of the "decisive effort." But of course it didn't decide anything, or at least, not much! The calendar for religious festivities next was banned, by official decree.

Twenty-nine years went by. The birth of the child Jesus remained in the hearts of the older natives but by 1998, fully two generations of Cubans didn't know what it meant to celebrate Christmas Eve or Christmas. So a great majority of people "celebrated" this December 25 in the midst of a great downturn in their standard of living.

Only those who have a somewhat better income - a tiny minority of the population - were able to partake in the traditional Christmas Eve feast of pork, black beans, yuca, salad, and sweets - the typical holiday dinner.

Most Cubans welcomed the holiday despite the lack of knowledge of the Christian meaning of the Nativity. Said Pablo Benitez, city bus driver:

"I viewed the news of the celebration as the possibility to 'disconnecta' (forget), and 'vacilar' (enjoy myself) and have a few drinks. I don't remember what a 'Nochebuena' (Christmas Eve) is."

For his part, Roberto Garcia, a postal worker and head of a family of five, figured out that the Nochebuena feast would end up costing him some 300 pesos - double what he makes in one month. He said, "I can't have the luxury of eating turrones (Spanish candies), or wines. I can only buy enough to have a little something of a celebration."

SOME ARE WORSE OFF THAN OTHERS

Said Celia Pedrosa, 71, a retiree: "I saved the pound of chicken that they allotted this month at the market. That's what I'm having for Christmas dinner." Pedroso, a Catholic, was happy because she remembered what the Nativity was about. She is happy with what little she has because, she said, "I know of others who are worse off and won't be able to celebrate Nochebuena at all."

"Christmas? What is that?" That was the question which many young people are asked when they saw the commotion, totally new to them, of the purchase of Christmas trees and Nativity scene figurines. After three decades of official atheism and not-so-veiled repression, many have no memory of the Nativity and have lost the custom of celebrating a Christian jubilee.

On December 24, Havana residents flooded the few stores which the Interior Commerce Ministry had supplied with pork. In the island's interior, the situation differed: "We have only split peas and rice," said Dolores Conception, an elementary school teacher in Pinar del Rio.

Catholics and Protestants expressed satisfaction that, at long last, the path towards the normalization of religion might open up.

Due mainly to the economic crisis which started towards the late 1980's, there has been a popular outpouring of support for religion countrywide. It has been estimated that, in 1985, only one percent of the population attended Churches and Temples. By now the estimate is more than four times as many, according to some experts.

Relations between the Church and the State have moved towards normalization in recent years. In 1996, after the meeting between Fidel Castro and Pope John Paul II, in Rome, there was a "resurrection" of the Catholic Church, which experienced a boom. Cardinal Jaime Ortega recently stated that these relations have moved from being formally good, to formally better.

This December 24, the metropolitan cathedral was overflowing with the faithful to attend the Midnight Mass. The next day, December 25, Havana citizens felt as if on a "Sunday recess." Some visited family and friends. Others went to church to look at the Nativity scenes. Cardinal Ortega was allowed to send a message through CMBF, Radio Musical National, a short-wave station which the governemtn allowed as a national broadcasting center.

WHAT DID THE GOVERNMENT SAY AND WHAT DID THE CHURCH SAY IN 1969?

In 1969, the Cuban government said: "We have the traditional end of year festivities: The Nochebuena and New Year's Eve, January 1. Where should we be on December 24?"

Responding were the shouts: "At the sugar harvest!"

"Where should we be on January 1? Where should we be on January 2, commemorating the anniversary of the Revolution?"

Came the shouts: "At the sugar harvest! At the sugar harvest!"

"And that would indeed be a real commemoration! That would be a dignified recognition for those who have struggled and fallen for the cause! That would be a great celebration of the conscience!

"Let us save the pork for July, save the black beans of Nochebuena for July, save the nuggets…and everything else for July - the Bacardi (sic), the cognac, the beer and everything else that is necessary……"

"Granma," the government newspaper proclaimed: "Fidel Castro, Prime Minister of the Revolutionary Government and First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party, October 27th, 1969, at the rally along with other party leaders, agriculture and industry leaders, at the start of the massive '10-million-ton harvest' - at the Karl Marx theater, and in Havana!"

CONTINUED "GRANMA:

"The call on us made by Fidel in his speech at the opening of the '10- million-ton harvest' representS for our people a matter of revolutionary honor.

"With the same enthusiasm and strength of character with which we have responded in such historical times as AT Giron, Escambray, and the October Missiles Crisis, and previous harvests, we will surely rise to the call of our Commandant in Chief, by joining together, from December 22, through January 3, in the sugar harvest and other farming endeavors… "……and, in addition, because this will mean the triumph of our revolutionary ideology, of our political and economic path, and the coup de grace to the blockade which the imperialists have imposed on us, "….we will all celebrate our triumph in the end. We will have the July celebrations, with the 10 million. And, undoubtedly, when that moment arrives, with the logical and natural satisfaction and happiness of the entire people, it will be, without a doubt, the happiest time we will have ever had in our country, like Fidel has stated. "Commission of Revolutionary Orientation of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, 'Granma,' December 19, 1969."

THE CHURCH, THAT VERY SAME YEAR:

"As is well known, in the present year the religious festivity of Our Lord's Nativity, a universal celebration throughout the Christian world, turns for us into a time of common sacrifice, which far from being foreign to us, is an intrinsic part of the life of the Son of God, in the midst of men.

"Jesus was born in the midst of great misery and shared in the fate of the poor of this world. The religious commemoration of his birth implies for us a message of sacrifice which, on the other hand, is the first condition toward achieving a spirit of reconciliation to which the Pope has invited us in his 'World's Journey for Peace' message.

"The selfless effort which our people have undertaken, which we, as Christians must associate with the sacrifice of Our Lord, making this our best gift for the anniversary of HIS birth among men, joining us to him through the grace of Mass on this day as well as through the personal effort in our daily lives for those who will not be able to participate in it.

"Christmas message of the Episcopal Conference in Cuba and World's Journey for Peace, December 14, 1969. Evelio Diaz, president of the Episcopal Conference of Cuba."

NOW, 1998, THE GOVERNMENT:

"Many things have changed since then. There's no longer the overriding need to mobilize hundreds of thousands of workers in December to cut all the sugar cane in the harvest; sugar combines and machines have undertaken most of the tasks of the harvest even when the efforts which we must undertake as a result of the natural setbacks we have experience are great and continue to be great.

"Even as on a holiday, in the midst of the 'Special Period' and under though the severe economic blockade means the sacrifice of millions of pesos in earnings and services which will not be produced, the Cuban Communist Party, fully aware that anything which will help the unbreakable unity of our people, will strengthen the revolution and its admirable and heroic struggle for a better world, convinced that the costs will be fully replenished through our own efforts and greater efficiency with which we propose to manage our resources; furthermore convinced that our people, soon to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the triumph of the Revolution, will also enjoy a day of rest and family gathering, having consulted and obtained the unanimous approval of leaders and representatives of many diverse religions throughout Cuba, Christians and non-Christians, proposed to the Council of State that, starting this year, December 25 will be considered, henceforward, a holiday for Christians and non-Christians, believers and non-believers.

"Political Bureau of the Cuban Communist Party, November 30th, 1998."

1998, THE CHURCH:

"Christmas this year undertakes a special relevance, taking into account the official recognition granted by the governmental authorities to the birth of Jesus as sufficiently significant to declare its character of a celebration. This celebration, of religious character, also has decisive implications to the transformation and renewal of people and society.

"We have happily realized that this decision has resulted in a great deal of joy for a great majority of the Cuban people, whose soul and roots are well grounded in Christiandom. Of course, we had wished for the recovery of the family and religious traditions for a long time. They, as we well know, are capable of bringing forth the feelings and conduct which make men good and people happy. As we get ready to celebrate Christmas it seems right to invite all Cubans to take on the teachings of Pope John Paul II, when he arrived in our country and stated: 'The message of the Gospel leads to love, to sacrifice and pardon, in a manner that when a people treks this path it is a people with hopes for a greater future.' The expressed recognition of the human condition by the Gospel, which appears on the official statement, encourages the legitimate wish of the people and their confidence that in a not-too-distant future, a wider participation of the Church and of the faithful will be accepted in the nation's social life, affording it all the religious and spiritual worth that Jesus of Nazareth embodies and through words and deeds, made possible through His death on the Cross, as an ultimate expression of the love which God has for us.

"The Catholic Bishops of Cuba, Christmas message, December 18th, 1998."

Efrén Martínez Pulgarón, Cuba Free Press.


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