Nochebuena c. 1966
I know it was taken in the backyard of my abuela’s house in Banes, the town where I was born in July 1959 – just six months after Fidel Castro rose to power and changed the island forever.
And I am guessing it must have been 1965 or 1966. Just a guess.
At any rate, the photo was taken before 1969 because that was the year when Castro decided out of the blue, as usual, that Christmas was a nasty capitalist invention and cancelled the whole thing.
When you are an all-powerful dictator, you can get away with just about anything. Even abolishing Christmas.
As a 10-year-old boy who was desperate to be a “good revolutionary”, which is what they taught us at school day in and day out, I was disappointed by the announcement, as were most of my friends in the neighbourhood. How could Christmas be cancelled? Surely there must have been some mistake ...
But we didn’t say anything, of course. If Fidel said Nochebuena was a bourgeois distraction, then we were not going to argue with him. Fidel was always right.
And so, it was goodbye to Christmas.
No more big family feasts at abuela's house. No more lechon asado or congri or yucca with the garlicky mojito that was my mother’s speciality. No more Spanish turrones. Or clandestine sips of my aunt's famous crema de vie that inevitably had a little too much alcohol and made your head spin a bit.
That’s why I am sure the photograph was taken before 1969.
It's the only photograph of Nochebuena we managed to keep and bring out of Cuba when my parents, my brother and I were finally allowed to leave the island in 1971, some three years after my father had applied for permission.
The kid in the middle – that’s me, keeping an eye on the lechon.
Seems like a long, long time ago.