Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Question of monarchy

Text and photo: The White Salamander

I recall the stories told by acquaintances about the efforts, expense and the lies some parents had to tell to give their children a present for “Three Kings Day.” Siblings were even born to satisfy the requests of some toddlers.

Revolutionary history always emphasizes how, before, poor people didn’t have any money and could not, even on this day, give anything to their children who still “believed” in the “Three Kings and Father Christmas,” and the social problem of the marked class differences between those who received much and those who received nothing. Hence, the absurdity of celebrating these dates was like something taken as a given by the people… to the great dissatisfaction of some.

But, in reality, the differences were never completely eliminated. They tried to eliminate the frowned upon celebration of Christmas and the Three Kings Day which, according Revolutionary history, became a part of the bourgeois life that we had to let go, when in reality, for some, they were almost more cultural and family traditions than celebrations based on religious beliefs. Then the children had to put aside their silly innocence and must learn that the bearded kings were others and brought other kinds of gifts.

This last January 5th, watching people expend tremendous effort running to the shops to buy their children “toy cell phones” at 25 Cuban pesos (national money), and others in line at stores selling toys in “Cuban pesos” but also in “convertibles” or CUCs (1 CUC = 24 national money or Cuban pesos), I remembered that the “terrible” social differences that the government so greatly “fears,” have more or less always existed.

As a child I had friends who had everything--toys and other things--that marked the differences, solely because of the fact that they were Papa’s nieces or nephews, relations or shirt-tail relations, or his kids. Me, with my “poor communist” family, I had to be satisfied with playthings from the coupons in the ration book in their three variants or categories: basic, non basic, and additional. Making it even more complicated were the numbers they gave out and the terrible lines, adding uncertainty about whether you’d get something you saw in the window, and the disappointment when the most desirable items were running out, the times when you’d be “bawling” because you didn’t reach the front of the line in time and had to leave the store with “something” so as not to go home with tears running down your face and empty hands.

To me, Three Kings Day and Father Christmas don’t mean a thing, nor do I know the history very well (because of my background, I suppose), but I wonder if the absurdity, like so many other things, wasn’t an attempt to impose the disappearance of these dates on so many people for whom they continued to matter and to try to eliminate something, established or not, in the mass culture of the people. Because even now some grandparents and parents find themselves “between a rock and a hard place” with the problem of low wages and the high prices of toys, etc. etc… on top of the terrible and noticeable differences compared to their children’s playmates.

Maybe the kids of today will just have to invent a new story about the New Kings ( this point, way too old) to see if we believe them.

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