Cuba celebrates first Christmas Eve after reconciliation with US

Havana, Dec 25 : People in Cuba celebrated the first Christmas Eve after their government agreed to reconciliation with the US.

Without lavish Christmas decorations on the streets and with the initial euphoria accompanying the announcement now quite subdued.

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Just a week after the historic announcement of the normalisation of relations between Washington and Havana, ties that have been broken since 1961, Cubans have got used to the situation and are facing it with caution and care, feelings that have replaced their initial happiness.

"We'll see what happens. Here we've seen nothing new. We don't know anything and things are the same," Dayani, a Havana resident said.

Yoandry, meanwhile, a taxi driver wearing a Santa Claus hat, one of the few Christmas symbols seen around Havana Wednesday, said that news of the agreement with the US is "very good," but people will have to wait to see "what the plan" of President Barack Obama and the Cuban government in this new situation.

Christmas Eve is overshadowed among Cubans by the yearend festivities Dec 31 although many of them get together with their families for dinner on the night before Christmas.

New Year's Day coincides with the triumph of the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro, who still has not commented publicly on the new course of relations with the US.

"In Cuba, New Year's Day has always been celebrated more, but for years now they've been celebrated almost equally. Everyone gets together with their family," Diana, a young woman who was doing last-minute shopping for Christmas Eve dinner at the Carlos III mall in central Havana, told Efe.

The more traditional tables in Cuban homes will be decked with roast pork, turkey or chicken, as well as black beans and white rice (a combined dish known as "arroz congri"), a salad and boiled cassava with garlic, olive oil and bitter orange.

Suspended in 1969, it was not until December 1997, one month before the historic visit to the island of Pope John Paul II, that Christmas Eve was reinstated as a holiday.

Two years later, the holiday was made official and permanent on the calendar and was extended throughout Cuba, although many families had celebrated it discretely during the 28 years it was banned.

Since the mid-1990s, Cubans also have been observing the custom of setting up Christmas trees, which are now easy to find in the stores.

In addition, the traditional Rooster's Mass, or Shepherd's Mass, is celebrated in some Catholic churches, including the Havana Cathedral, where Cardinal Jaime Ortega presides.


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