Celebrating Dual Traditions in Cuba: Santa Barabara and Chango

By Joseph Pubillones

December 5, 2015 4 min read

The history of Santa Barbara dates back to the third century. A rich pagan kept his daughter locked in a tower to keep her from having contact with the outside world. She kept steadfast to her Christian faith and was killed by her own father's sword.

Saint Barbara is often portrayed with a crown, miniature chains, swords and a tower. Santa Barbara continues to be a popular saint in modern times, perhaps best known as the patron saint of armorer, artillerymen, military engineers, miners and others who work with explosives, because of her legend's association with lightning and fire.

In Cuba, December 4th is the feast day of Santa Barbara. It is a great party for all who believe in her. People also associate Chango, an orisha deity that slaves adored, with this day. The celebrations involve parties and dancing into the night. In the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria, Santa Barbara is syncretized with Chango — the deity of fire, lightning and thunder. Cuban tradition dictates offerings to her of apples, roses, cigars and rum.

Santa Barbara as Chango is the owner of fire, lightening, thunder and war, but he is also the patron of music, drumming and dancing. In Santeria, Chango is male and represents male beauty, virility, passion and power. His colors are red and white, and his eleke (sacred necklace), is made of alternating red and white beads. Devotees are usually required to dress in white, and women in white eyelet fabric.

Saint Barbara's Day is also celebrated by the British Royal Artillery, Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery, Canadian Air Force Armorers, Royal Canadian Artillery, Canadian Military Field Engineers, Royal Canadian Navy Weapons, New Zealand Armorers, Irish Defense Forces Artillery Regiments, Norwegian Armed Forces, Artillery Corps of the Greek Army, the Cypriot National Guard, the Spanish Armed Forces and even by the United States Army and Marine Corps. Her celebrations include church parades, sports days, guest nights, cocktail parties, dinners and other activities. She is also the patron saint of the US Navy and Marine Corps Aviation Ordinance men.

To decorate for this type of celebration, many devotees create an altar with a statute of Santa Barbara in all royal dressing. The dressing may include a white silk dress draped with a full-length, white fur-trimmed, red velvet cape. Alongside the typical offerings mentioned above, one may find cakes and money to ensure health and good fortune.

This holiday tree was designed and inspired with Santa Barbara in mind. Red lights, red ornaments, red roses and red apples, dotted with white eyelet ornaments and red-beaded garland. The tree topper is the iconic bejeweled crown. This and thirty-five other trees can be seen at the Ann Norton Sculpture Garden in West Palm Beach, Florida during the yearly Festival of the Trees in early December.

Joseph Pubillones is the owner of Joseph Pubillones Interiors, an award-winning interior design firm based in Palm Beach, Fla. To find out more about Joseph Pubillones, or to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: Emmanuel Retzepter

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