My informant is an 84 year-old woman of Spanish / Cuban ethnicity. She grew up in Havana, Cuba and lived there until she had to leave due to the communist regime at the age of 22. This story was told as an explanation of what they used to do in Cuba the night of December 24th. She enjoys this tradition because it reminds her of young days in Cuba when things were good.
“The Christmas tradition… uh La Noche Buena (The Good Night) took place on the 24th in Cuba, the day before American Christmas. What happens is um ah its a family event where everyone is involved in the process of preparing a whole pig to eat. First the men in the family traditionally kill and clean the pig, and all family members are included in different parts of this process. Grandmothers are usually in the kitchen preparing spices and all sorts of dressings and other simple dishes, usually served with rice and beans and uh… plantains. The second part is a man’s tradition of roasting the pig in an outdoor area. While this happens towards the end, ah the women decide who is gonna sit where, where are the things going at the table, who is gonna serve, who is gonna carve. In this tradition women have 100% control of all of the things that occur ~ even after the meal, men will have zero involvement. A variety of desserts are fixed from Spain directly, usually you bought at someplace that the desserts were created in Spain. You know, now the food items are not there, you cannot find a pig, things from Spain, you cannot find beans, most people are hungry and hoping to find any food. Also, Santa Clause does not exist in Cuba, we have the 3 kings.”
I thought it was really interesting to hear how this story reflected the times of the early days when my grandmother was still in Cuba. It seems as though women and men both had very distinct roles in this process and were extremely diligent in following these confines. Animal rights were also another interesting perspective from an American point of view. In the US, today it might seem inhumane for every household to slaughter a pig on Christmas. However, in a lot of other places, it is still totally normal to slaughter your own meat for a meal and can even be thought of as showing more respect for the animal, depending on how it is carried out of course.
Cuban culture does put an emphasis on family events and the bonding and delegation of roles within a family. It is some of these ideas that help to keep the culture strong with lasting ideas and beliefs. Today my family still roasts a whole pig in my grandma’s backyard on Christmas. It is a huge tradition, we definitely are not as rigid and do not slaughter the pig ourselves, but it does feel like the Cuban heritage is still coming through in its own way.