Glenn Lindgren: Noche Buena means Good Night. For Cubans, it's all about family and friends, a time to celebrate life with good food, good music, and love. It is truly the most beautiful and heart-warming celebration of the entire year.
Raúl Musibay: The roasted pig was always the main attraction. Along with the pig, we had black beans, white rice, yuca con mojo (mojo is a type of marinade with garlic, onions, and sour orange), some salad and of course lots of Cuban bread.
Glenn Lindgren: In the days before Christmas Eve, all the women would start preparing desserts. Popular desserts included orange and grapefruit shells in a heavy syrup and buñuelos a type of fried sweet dough with powdered sugar and syrup.
Glenn Lindgren: On December 23rd, the pig would be killed and cleaned. That same night, the pig would be marinated and left to soak up all the 'mojo' throughout the night.
Jorge Castillo: Even though the 23rd was a day of hard work for the men and women because of all the preparations, that's when the party started, because everyone got together to help out. Neighbors would visit with each other and help out all during the day.
Raúl Musibay: When you walked from house to house you could smell all the pigs roasting throughout the neighborhood!
Glenn Lindgren: There were basically two groups of people celebrating Noche Buena the party givers and the party goers. Some people had to stay home and host these elaborate parties, while others made the rounds from house to house enjoying many different parties in one evening and spreading holiday cheer.
Jorge Castillo: Many Noche Buena parties lasted until the early hours of the morning. There was a lot of singing and dancing. One interruption in the party was when everyone would go to the 'misa del gallo' at midnight. 'Misa' is mass and 'gallo' is rooster. The literal translation is Mass of the Rooster. Of course it was called this since it was so late at night. Once mass was over, many people returned to the parties for more food, drinks, dancing and laughter.
Glenn Lindgren: In many ways Noche Buena was more a feast for the adults, although the children did participate. However, because these parties ran so late, many of the younger kids fell asleep long before the parties ended.
Raúl Musibay: Remember too, that in Cuba the kids did not get gifts on Christmas Day as they do in the United States. There was no Santa Claus either. Our Christmas day was a lot more relaxed. We would have a turkey with (of course) more black beans and rice, and the delicious leftovers of the day before.
Jorge Castillo: As Raúl says, no gifts were given on Christmas day. Instead, we had our gifts on the 6th of January in observation of 'Los Reyes Magos', the "The Magician Kings," or Three Wise Men. In many towns in Cuba, this day was markd with a formal procession.
Raúl Musibay: Men dressed as the Kings would lead the parade, tossing candy and treats to the children.
Jorge Castillo: These Epiphany parades were banned after Castro took power.
Glenn Lindgren: What Amercans call the "Three Magi." In this case, El Rey Melchior is the guy who brings gold, El Rey Baltasar brings myrrh, and El Rey Gaspar is the one with the frankincense. They did have Christmas trees in Cuban homes (pre-Castro). Most were rather small and shipped to Cuba from the United States.
Jorge Castillo: Although the trees were small, everyone went all out with the decorations. So even a tiny tree looked very beautiful.
Raúl Musibay: There were plenty of lights, and hanging ornaments – even lots of lágrimas (literally "tears") or what Americans call tinsel, that we hung from each branch.
Jorge Castillo: Cuban Christmas trees looked very much like American ones, complete with the angel on top. However, many people used male angels. Michael the Archangel was a popular choice.
Glenn Lindgren: However, the Christmas tree took a back seat to the beautiful nacimientos (nativity, or manger scenes) that were, and still are, an important part of the holiday in many Cuban homes.
Jorge Castillo: Unlike the tiny manger sets that are typical in American homes, most Cuban manger sets included many different figures, some quite large.
Raúl Musibay: Mostly made of plaster and painted, these figures – all arranged in their Christmas setting – have a special place in the Cuban home.
Jorge Castillo: The Christmas trees and lights and the holy days would last until January 6.
Raúl Musibay: Christmas in Cuba was the entire celebration of the birth of Christ up to and including his visit from the Three Wise Men.
Glenn Lindgren: Of course, every manger scene featured the wise men!
These things have not been done in Cuba for a long time since religion has not been permitted. Although Castro has given permission for these celebrations again since the Pope's visit, the young people of Cuba haven't been brought up with these traditions.
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