Cuba’s Kids and the Importance of Toys

Rosa Martinez

Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 13 — While many Cubans don’t know who Melchior, Caspar or Baltasar were, nearly everyone has heard of the “Magi” or the Three Wise Men.

Among the many traditions that were eliminated by the revolutionary government was that of “Three Kings Day,” on January 6, when in many parts of the world, children — whether Christian or not — are brought gifts by these supposed kings.

For those of my generation, while they took away January 6, they gave us the third Sunday in July: “Cuban Children’s Day.” According to the explanations I’ve heard, the triumphant leadership wasn’t interested in eliminating the activity as such, but the social differences that this day marked, as well as the crass consumerism that capitalism had created around it.

The truth is that kids today still enjoy what the revolution generously provides.

Back when I was growing up, before the Special Period crisis of the ‘90s, they used to sell toys at reasonable prices to all children in the country – regardless of social, racial or any other type of differences.

Today, we again have Three Kings Day, which has been reintroduced among the population – despite its origin in history.

While some people criticize consumer society because it takes advantage of every opportunity to extort money from people, it’s thrilling to see children excited about the gift they’ve hoped for on that day.

Last year, for the first time, I explained Three Kings Day to my two girls, telling them about who they were, the letters children would write to them, the processions that kings make in other countries and the gifts they leave for all of the world’s children. I also mentioned the lumps of coal that are left behind for those kids who misbehave or don’t mind their parents.

On that occasion I was able to buy a present for each child. I had to squeeze my pockets but I was able to do it; and most importantly I could enjoy their contented little faces when, early in the morning, they found what they had asked for from the marvelous kings.

This year the story was quite different. At the beginning of a year I had a lot of work and I completely forgot about January 6, not to mention the fact that we didn’t have a spare dime. But while I had forgotten about Three Kings Day, my girls hadn’t.

Without saying anything, they had written their letters and left food for the kings under the bed. They had behaved well for weeks, actually better than ever.

Morning came and I woke up at around 6:00 to screams accompanied by loud crying.

“I’m bad,” I heard Olivia say.

“What happened, were you dreaming?” I asked?

“I’m bad, that’s why they didn’t leave me anything,” she replied.

“But what are you talking about?” I asked, still confused.

Tania was also crying, but at least she managed to explain the reason for her tears.

“The Three Wise Men, mommy, they didn’t leave us any gifts. We sent letters, we left them food, we behaved ourselves… Why didn’t they leave us anything?”

All of that made me feel like telling them the truth about where the gifts really came from and who actually bought them. But I didn’t know if it would be a good idea at that moment.

I chose to “invent” a little and told them that because there were so many children in the world and only three kings for all of them, sometimes the letters wouldn’t arrive on time and some children would receive their gifts a little late.

I don’t know if they believed me, but it did manage to calm them down.

Of course I began running around trying to come up with some money to buy gifts. Obviously these wouldn’t be the ones they asked for, but they’d understood perfectly well that though the kings were magicians, they couldn’t always come up with the toys each child prefers; the girls undersood that what was important was that all children, wherever they were, would receive a gift that day.
Maybe those people are right to consider this is a meaningless, consumerist tradition, and that children shouldn’t be fooled.
They might be right to say that it’s a difficult day for low-income families, and that some children end up being frustrated after waiting for their toys.

But what no one can deny is that a child without a toy is like a bird without wings.