Triumph of the Revolution/New Years (January 1): This is the day in commemoration of the establishment of Fidel Castro’s government. It celebrated the victory of revolution that took place in 1959. It’s also New Years Day. Cubans like to bring in the new year with drinks, music, dancing, lots of food, parades, fireworks, friends and family.
Victory of Armed Forces Day (January 2): It’s basically a celebration of the armed forces that helped Fidel Castro take over the previous government. One tradition is that at 12:00 everyone fires a bullet into the air. Sounds like what the rednecks do on New Years around my house.
Good Friday/Easter (varies): The Cuban government ended religious holidays when Castro took over in 1959. However, Pope John Paul II was instrumental in influencing those in control to reinstate Christmas (back in 1998) and Good Friday (in 2012). People attended a special mass for the first time in nearly half a century, but even at that, not too many people showed up for it. But many people watched an address by the cardinal which was broadcast on TV. Apparently, it’s still up in the air on whether Good Friday will indeed become a permanent national holiday. In other Latin countries these celebrations are colorful and full of tradition, but there are almost two whole generations in Cuba who haven’t celebrated these religious holidays before. For the most part, Cubans will go to church on Easter Sunday and eat a special meal with friends and family.
Labor Day (May 1): For a country that celebrates the distribution of work, Labor Day is an important holiday, complete with a day off and parades and speeches from politicians. It’s also a day to address the state of the union type of issues and plans for the future. According to the CIA World Factbook, Cuba has an “official” 3.8% unemployment, and there are no figures available for the percentage below the poverty level. It’s also common for human rights activists to use this day to address other issues, such as torture and unfair/false imprisonment (especially for political dissidents).
Commemoration of the Assault of the Moncada Garrison (July 25-27): Fidel Castro led about 135 men that he personally trained to attack and overtake the Moncada Barracks which were located in the city of Santiago de Cuba. This is often considered the beginning of the revolution. The actual day of the attack was July 26, but this holiday celebrates the day before and after as well. These three days are a very popular time for street fests, parades, and other community activities.
Independence Day (October 10): This day celebrates Cuba’s independence from Spain. Although they also broke from the US, they don’t normally consider that part of Independence Day (perhaps some do). Typical Independence Day celebrations take place in Cuba: parades, street fests, music, dancing, lots of food and drinks, flag displays, games (especially the national pastime baseball), and fireworks.
Christmas (December 25): In the late 1960s, Fidel Castro decided that Christmas was interfering with sugar production, so he outlawed it. When Pope John Paul II came to Cuba in later latter part of the 1990s, he convinced them to bring back Christmas, and in 1998 Cubans were able to celebrate it again for the first time in nearly 30 years. Today, most Cuban Christians celebrate by attending a midnight mass where the bells officially ring in Christmas Day at the stroke of midnight. People decorate their homes and scurry to find gifts as they can afford them and to purchase special food to share with their families.
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