Cuba is a Caribbean island nation found in Latin America. When Christopher Columbus landed on its shores in 1492, he claimed the land for the kingdom of Spain. At that time, Cuba was predominantly inhabited by the Arawak people, after which came the Spanish invasion and resettlement of African slaves. Having been claimed as a Spanish colony, Cuba was then ruled by a Spanish governor and remained under Spanish influence for almost 400 years. The Spanish invasion was responsible for the introduction of Roman Catholicism to the island nation, and to date remains Cuba’s dominant faith. Traditional religious practices by other cultural practices have, over time, been intertwined with Catholicism to give way to various kinds of syncretism.
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Cuba is described as a melting pot of cultures. Its culture is dominated by the natives, the Spanish and British colonialists, African and Asian slaves, and Americans. For this reason, it has a rich culture that dates back in history to the Columbian era (1492) and goes beyond its independence in 1902. To date, Cuba is perhaps well known for its numerous celebrations, commonly known as fiestas. There are fiestas almost everything in the country. They include religious holidays such as fiesta Del dia de Reyes, the el Cobre fiesta and the Carnaval, music festivals, harvest festivals, and social holidays in honor of prolific people in the country’s history.
In the book Cuban Fiestas by Echevarria, the author dissects the whole range of Cuban fiestas that date back to more than two centuries. He also depicts the connection that exists between these festivals, Cuban history, and their impact on Cuban cultural life. As a child, the author felt an ominous foreboding for these cultural rituals, being a witness to the preparations of the Nochebuena fiesta which featured as its central theme, the slaughtering of a pig. Now being well versed in Latin American literature, Echevarria hails these feasts as keys to understanding the dynamic quality of Cuban culture, and their impact on the lives of Cubans (Echevarria 2010).
One of Cuba’s most prolific fiestas is the fiesta Del dia de Reyes, which is translated to mean the Feast of Kings. This is a religious festival that has its roots in Christianity. Christianity can be traced back to the time of the Spanish invasion in Cuba in 1492 when Spanish settlers introduced Roman Catholicism as the religion of the day. The Spanish Catholics ensured that the Indian natives and the African slaves are baptized, taught simple prayers, and indoctrinated into Christianity. Their own forms of traditional religion were subdued by incorporating these pagan’s traditional practices into aspects of Catholic Church doctrines.
This is known today as is today known as Santeria. As a result, generations of Cuban have been brought up in the culture of Christianity, and they celebrate the Feast of Kings. This celebration is meant to honor the three wise kings from the East who brought gifts to baby Jesus when he was born. The intricacies of this feast lie in children placing grass in shoeboxes on the eve of the feast (to feed the kings’ camels), and on waking up to find that the grass has been replaced by gifts. This feast has been celebrated throughout the history of Cuba.
An in-depth analysis of the feast shows the great impact it has on Christian individuals. They glean the rituals from their parents, participate in it themselves, and pass it on to their children who will do the same to posterity. This feast integrates the spirit of generosity by exchanging gifts amongst people. Children are told that if they are good, they will get gifts and, if not, they get nothing. Enticed by this notion, they strive to attain the virtue of being good. Apart from integrating the spirit of giving amongst people, it also reinforces desirable Christian virtues that are hopefully passed to future generations.
It should also be noted that the history of Cuba began with the Spanish invasion. It is a focal point to Christianity which is based on the bible. American influence became so much that they could not integrate their own western culture like Santa Claus at Christmas. For Cubans, the Feast of Kings leading up to the biblical Epiphany is more recognized than Christmas day itself. Religiously, it shows the extent of Christianity is deeply rooted in Cuban culture. Also, locally available articles are used in the representation of the feast.
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In Western culture, Santa is left for milk and cookies. In Cuba, grass or straw is used, and carvings and artwork depict the three kings mounted on horses rather than camels. For this reason, this fiesta boosts Cuba’s cultural art and craft. The figurines are to be found in local markets and souvenir shops, ready to mark the important religious festival. The use of the horse in this traditional depiction goes back to Cuba’s history. The ancient generations by which this culture started were more used to seeing horses, rather than the biblical camels. They, therefore, integrated that aspect into the feast.
In conclusion, the fiesta Del dia de Reyes is a portrayal of Cuba’s history from its colonization to religious influence. This is intertwined with deeply rooted ancient Cuban culture.
Echevarria, Roberto. Cuban Fiestas. New Haven,CT: Yale University Press, 2010.