The Three Kings Visit Havana’s Children

Another empty symbol? 

By Regina Cano

The Three Kings (or Three Wise Men). Illustration:

HAVANA TIMES — When I asked a 6-year-old boy if his grandmother had bought him the tanker truck he was pulling along on a string through the entire house as a present, he stared at me, thinking about his response, standing still and not pulling his truck along anymore. The old lady, who was observing the conversation, decided to intervene and explain to me that: “The Three Kings brought this toy, as well as the bowling set.”

In the face of this revelation and looking for more answers, I kept asking the grandmother questions about this situation, who told me that two or three years ago, the family began to reinstate Three Kings Day, which out of respect for children, includes the custom of leaving grass and water for camels near their bed at night on January 5th, because they are tired from carrying those Kings all the way there.

This was a curious discovery for me and it led me to look into the subject further and I found that it wasn’t only this isolated family, who live in Guinera, one of the city’s most marginal neighborhoods (with a bad reputation), that were doing this.

While doing my research, I discovered that this tradition was lost in the early years of the Cuban Revolution but that it has been revived or rescued in the capital and is spreading as adults who experienced this as children or are currently experiencing it in other countries or have visited other cultures on different international missions are passing on this practice to their children and it doesn’t necessarily carry the Christian meaning it once had.

Although, the tradition is being spread because of the need to meet children’s demands who are finding out, from the first lucky ones, that there are Three Kings who bring presents in January. “January 6th is becoming a day off at [primary] schools,” a mother tells me, and the next day kids come in showing off their toys and competing to see which ones are the best.

The world of children is becoming more diversified, just as Elpidio Valdes is no longer the super action figure, because there are now other characters and TV programs which fill the heads of children, as this world is also becoming more digital and new idols are appearing every day.

Therefore, among the youngest on the block’s fantasies and street realities, there are now presents from the Three Kings, between being told off and promises to be good and rewards and punishments, they are becoming spoilt by their parents, grandparents, teachers and the rest of the people who makeup their world because “there isn’t a better child than our own”, a grandmother claimed, confirming that children are glorified here in Cuba.

The same way there isn’t a well-established tradition of Christmas and New Year in Cuba because many families (so as not to sin by saying the majority) no longer celebrate the triumph of the Revolution, rather they celebrate the end of the year to welcome the new one, wishing each other the best, as is humanity’s age-old custom, but Three Kings Day seems to have another meaning which society didn’t encourage so that their child doesn’t feel bad for not receiving a present, that’s why they say “you aren’t worse than anyone.”

All of the above doesn’t stop being a huge sacrifice for parents, buying (industrial) toys which don’t last very long, in comparison with how expensive they can be for a household’s finances, when the average salary makes parents and grandparents protest, although they are compensated when they see their children play which erases the brink of the abyss and makes them stronger “to keep moving forward”.

There are children who only receive a present on Three Kings Day, others also receive the Christmas Bean or piece of Coal, but there are already people who have an uncle dressed up as Santa Claus, as well as families who have a roscon cake on Christmas.

There is a common denominator in these stories and this is that children need to “behave well” – fundamental rules of behavior and respect, as well as being good students – a way of restraining or containing in the face of excess which sometimes weighs on learning during childhood.

Family negotiations? Yes, but these are much-needed negotiations as a small contribution to encouraging a “predisposed” civic collective memory to abide by rules, which is missing right now in entire generations, those who find it hard to respect in general. Jumping the distance between good and bad manners.