HAVANA, Cuba — Soviet influence on this island began creeping into the holiday calendar after the government was declared officially atheist in 1962. The religiosity and consumerism of Christmas were considered anathema to communist values, so the Cuban authorities government began promoting New Year's Eve as a secular alternative. It fit nicely with the anniversary of the January 1 "triumph" of Fidel Castro's Cuban Revolution in 1959.
Cuban families still exchanged gifts and ate a holiday meal — if they could afford one — but on December 31st, not the 25th.
Christmas was officially removed from the state calendar in 1969. The following year, a Scrooge-like Fidel Castro said the holiday interfered with the sugar harvest, and ordered workers to keep swinging their machetes.
Practicing Catholics and other Christians on the island continued to celebrate quietly, and but it wasn't until Pope John Paul II's historic visit in 1998 that Castro put the holiday back on the calendar.
Today Cuba is caught between two holidays. It's no longer unusual to see Christmas lights twinkling in apartment windows, and government stores are stocked with holiday decorations and fake Christmas trees. Midnight Mass from Havana's main cathedral is broadcast on state television.
Whether Cubans celebrate Christmas or continue to have their holiday tradition on December 31st, there's one constant: roast pork. No matter what their politics or religious views, eating pierna asada for "fin de año" is the holiday wish of every Cuban, from Miami to Madrid to Matanzas. It is one of the few unifiers for a country and a culture too often split by politics.
1 bone-in fresh pork shoulder with skin on, tenderized with mallet.
Prepare marinade with 1 cup of bitter orange or lime juice, adding chopped onions, copious amounts of garlic. Season with cumin, oregano, black pepper, salt, and a pinch of sugar. Puncture meat or make incisions to work in marinade, then cover and refrigerate overnight. Preheat oven to 375 degrees, roast in pan with marinade for 1 hour. Cover, then roast at 325 until fully cooked (3-5 hours, depending on weight). Slice and serve, discard excess skin and fat.