During Cuba's last Christmas season before Fidel Castro claimed victory for the Revolution at the start of 1959, the great Cuban orchestra Sonora Matancera recorded a holiday album featuring the young Celia Cruz.
See festive footage of Cuban Christmas past in this vintage video, with Cruz swinging her hips and flashing the smile that would later be known around the world as she sings a Spanish version of Jingle Bells, titled “Soy Feliz en Navidad.”
The 1958 album Navidades con la Sonora Matancera also included such Cuban-flavored Christmas numbers as “El Cha-Cha-Cha de la Navidad” and “Rumba en Navidad.” Two years later, Cruz would leave Cuba, never to return. The singer who became known as the Queen of Salsa died in 2003. She remains the world’s best known Cuban artist.
Christmas celebrations were officially banned in 1969, following Castro's declaration that Cuba was an atheist country at the start of the Revolution. The holiday was reinstated in 1997, anticipating Pope John Paul II’s visit to the island. Some artists in Cuba have since recorded new Cuban Christmas music, though with less Yankee holiday zeal than the Sonora Matancera’s classic tracks.
More Americans are no doubt pondering holidays in Havana after President Obama and Raul Castro broke a hole in the wall between the two countries with the announcement Dec. 17 that diplomatic ties would be restored. So this Christmas, let’s do the rumba again!