Christmas Eve supper, and that bucket of water that people throw out the window at midnight on December 31 continue being essential landmarks in the celebration of Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Cuba. Other rites, like cider and the grapes that accompany the last 12 bell strokes of the old year, disappeared for a long time and have returned now as if they had always been maintained, while going out with a suitcase around the block and the rag doll that is burned are striving to spread and to become consolidated when until now they perhaps haven’t been practiced very much. There are timid discounts in the shops and the Christmas tree is a fiesta for all ages. The jubilation increases and the pace of work slows down. There’s a respite in diseases. Those who usually do not drink alcoholic beverages have a drink since it’s just once a year. Congratulation cards are received; they say more or less the same thing: Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
This is how the birth of Baby Jesus is celebrated. But in Cuba, like in other many countries, the celebration has been debunked and those days have become a pleasant occasion for family reunions and meetings with friends, although the Catholic churches are full of parishioners, not always devout, to hear the Christmas Eve mass officiated before midnight and which now can be at nine or at any other time, according to the available priest’s agenda, while the Protestant congregations, numerous and very extended, celebrate their cults or services according to each one of their liturgies on the morning of the 25th.
The Christmas Eve supper is the center of the celebration. Cuban families do not have a set time for this supper. But in the majority of the island it is compulsory to have it with the family, and it is expected that everyone will be at the table to start the feast for the occasion. The chronicler does not hide the fact that in the Cuba of today not everyone always eats what they want. But he is convinced there isn’t a Cuban family that goes to bed without having supper. No matter how modest their resources, people always set aside something special or at least different for that night.
For average Cubans it is not important what they served for the Christmas Eve supper, but rather what is left of it, in order to comment that there was so much food that in their homes they didn’t have to cook the following day. Actually, Cuban families usually don’t cook on the 25th, which is the day of the so-called montería, which is eating what was left from the previous night. They want the 25th to be as peaceful as possible, ideal for family or friendly visits, finishing off the bottle that was left half full or to take it easy after all the work of the previous days. Though the New Year’s Eve supper has won a space in recent years, it is preferable to eat something light to have a great time out on that day and welcome the year and start a new cycle with January 1’s lunch.
The chronicler doesn’t remember having ever seen, before 1959, people in the street on New Year’s Eve carrying a suitcase to walks around the block. This is a custom that is now spreading and those who practice it say that it is the way to ensure a trip abroad. Or that it is conducive to it. Neither did he see the burning of a rag doll that symbolizes the old year, as is done in some localities, with the pretext of getting rid of what was bad from the year that ends.
Hours later, already by daylight, the Ifá priests will meet to make their predictions about the year that starts. The babalawos thus seek the Letter of the Year.
Of all these, the most universal practice is that of the bucket of water. The most ingrained. People enthusiastically and hopefully throw water because, although the year that ends has been good, they want the new one to be better.