7 Traditions Only Cubans Can Understand

Cuban license plate
Cuban license plate | © Pedro Szekely / Flickr
Jack Guy

Every country has its cultural traditions, and Cuba is no different. Here are some of the most interesting ones to look out for.

In Cuba, stick to the casas particulares with the blue sign


If you are staying in casas particulares on your travels, you will likely be spending a good amount of time with Cubans. Be aware of the following superstitions that your hosts might point out to you:

Don’t let a rocking chair swing by itself, as it’s a symbol of death. Always make sure rocking chairs are stationary when you get up.

Itchy palms? Your luck is in and you’ll receive some money soon.

Lechon asado

Christmas celebrations with no presents

Christmas in Cuba is celebrated on Noche Buena, or Christmas Eve. The traditional meal is a whole suckling pig prepared in a backyard oven, and the party is huge. Families get together, friends pop over, and even neighbors and co-workers are invited. As a result, Christmas Day is more about recovery than festivities.

Call your daughter, friends and family members ‘gordita’

If you have an ear for Spanish, you might notice that Cubans have some unique terms of endearment. It’s not unusual to hear women called gordita, or fatty, around friends and family. It might seem strange to English-speakers, but it’s widely accepted in Cuba.

Fiesta of the Red and Blue

In early November each year, the town of Majagua in Ciego de Ávila comes alive with a celebration of peasant culture. Revelers dance, eat traditional food and take part in regional ceremonies. The town is split into red and blue sides, which inhabitants are free to choose, which then face off in dance battles. Spectators will be able to experience a slice of traditional country life.


Help with the honeymoon by pinning money to a bride’s dress

If you’re lucky enough to be invited to a wedding, you will notice that male guests will dance with the bride and pin money to her dress. This is a tradition designed to help the newly-married couple pay for their honeymoon, and it’s good form to join in.

Burn away bad experiences on New Year’s Eve

Cubans believe that burning an effigy helps get rid of the bad things that might have happened in the past year, before setting off fireworks to celebrate the good that is coming in the new year. Don’t be alarmed if you see a human-shaped doll burning away to ashes; it symbolizes the death of your regrets and bad memories. Onwards to next year!

Baby names can be a minefield

While some Cubans prefer to stick to traditional names, many others make up their own unique names for their children. They are sometimes cobbled together from pieces of relatives’ names, or they might be entirely made up. It’s a strange cultural quirk that can make for some real challenges when it comes to pronouncing – and remembering – what to call your new friends.

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