HAVANA, Cuba — Local Catholics say that the reinstatement of Christmas as a national holiday in 1997 after decades of being outlawed has brought enormous good “to the life of the nation,” but that its deeper meaning still needs to be understood.
“Once again Christmas proves to be a source of happiness: however, we cannot forget that this beneficial aspect of Christmas has its roots and its nature in the religious event of the birth of Jesus Christ,” wrote editors from the Diocese of Pinar del Rio's magazine titled Vitral.
“The more Christmas in Cuba is imbued with its roots and its Christian religious nature, as it was in the past, the more good it will bring to the Cuban people.”
Since its beginning as a nation, Catholic liturgical celebrations were the primary source of unity for the people and were highly important for the new nation, the editors said.
But although “Christmas united Cubans,” the Communist government banned public celebrations of the holiday in 1969.
“Christmas was still celebrated in Catholic and Protestant churches and in Christian homes, but public celebrations disappeared.”
However, during his pastoral visit to Cuba in 1997, Blessed Pope John Paul II asked Cuban president Fidel Castro to reinstate Christmas as a holiday, and the request was granted. One year later it was made an official law.
“The people welcomed this decision with joy,” the editors wrote, but since 29 years had passed since the last public celebration of Christmas in 1968, there was now an entire generation of Cubans who had no experience of it.
“Christmas was reinstated as a holiday, but this is not enough to recover the spirit of Christmas that characterizes these days and that is a part of the western world to which Cuba belongs.”
The magazine acknowledged that an authentic understanding of Christmas has begun to spread in the country but that there is still much to be done. For this reason, it argued, the recovery of the religious meaning of Christmas is also a task of the state.
Since a large percentage of the Cuban people are believers, and even non-believers and members of other religions “recognize Jesus of Nazareth as an extraordinary man whose life and teachings had a positive impact on the history of humanity,” the state media should be willing to broadcast public religious celebrations.
“The people have a right to see their religious beliefs reflected in the media, just as much as politics, art and sports,” the editors wrote.
“How beautiful would it be during Christmas to see positive references to Christmas on television, radio or in newspapers, as is the case in the rest of the countries of the west and in many countries of the east! This doesn’t hurt anyone. It does us all good. It does Cuba good.”