Every November 15, hours before Havana celebrates a new anniversary of its founding, Cubans began to gather around the El Templete monument -a building that occupies the place where the city was officially founded- to make wishes as they walk three times around the ceiba tree.

Every November 15, hours before Havana celebrates a new anniversary of its founding, Cubans began to gather around the El Templete monument -a building that occupies the place where the city was officially founded- to make wishes as they walk three times around the ceiba tree.But those who would like to perform the ritual on the upcoming anniversary will find that the old ceiba tree that had been there for the past 56 years can no longer be found. Last February, a brigade from the Office of the Havana City’s Historian had to cut the old tree due to evident signs of deterioration.

However, the absence of that iconic element in the Cuban capital did not last long. In mid-March, a robust ceiba tree replaced the old one: a 15-year-old and 8-meter high tree brought from Las Terrazas community, in the western province of Artemisa.

The City Revolves Around a Tree According to historians, it was on November 16, 1519, under the shadow of a ceiba tree, that the Spanish conquistadors held the first mass and the city council session with which the town of Saint Christopher of Havana would be officially founded.

In 1754, the then General Governor of Cuba, Francisco Cagigal, had a commemorative column built in that space and, even though the original tree no longer existed, three other ceiba trees would be planted during the following years. Two of them died shortly afterwards, but one survived until 1827, when it was cut down to build the neoclassical monument known as El Templete.

Another three ceiba trees were planted in 1828, but only one survived until 1959. One year later, that tree was replaced by the one removed last February.

The popular tradition of making wishes for prosperity thus began here while doing three circles around the ceiba tree, touching it or even kissing it. The ritual originated from the syncretism entailed by the convergence of the African and Spanish cultures.

This practice has been maintained for years among residents of Havana and visitors as well, who make long lines hours before the clock strikes midnight on November 16 to make wishes around the plant, which the Afro-Cuban religion regards as sacred.

Every year around midnight, the Havana City’s Historian Eusebio Leal gets to the place and makes a brief speech for those who are anxiously awaiting their turn to celebrate the tradition.

On March 15, locals and visitors accompanied by the historian welcomed the new ceiba tree once replanted.

The possibility of building a walk around the tree is being studied, with the objective of mitigating the damage caused by the thousands of people who every year get close to the ceibawishing for their personal prosperity and that of the city as well.

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