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 (...at this point, way too old) to see if we believe them.
This is an excerpt to a version of the song, Epitaph for Vladimir Visotski by Karsmarski Jacek (Polish dissident songwriter), which includes Ciro Diaz in his latest album, The Blue Slug, that I listened to compulsively for at least two months, especially on the street with my mp3 inherited from a friend who now has an I-pod. (Download the lyrics here) (Download the recording and album cover here) The song (in summary, which runs about ten minutes) is about a desperate artist going through the circles of hell in search of an answer or death, and at the end of his journey there is only loneliness and the weight of the supreme power above himself. So I found myself at times catching the bus across Havana at 12 noon in August under the perennial sunshine and with the distressing feeling of not going anywhere, or arriving too late, or going for pleasure ... I feel that I have already arrived at the eighth enclosure (this is the finale of the song) where there is nothing, and I feel useless and empty, and I look at people without faith who walk along the street and who have so much fear that they no longer know they're afraid, and who have seen so many Roundtables and so many news broadcasts that they no longer know what belongs to reality or just to the TV screen. They cannot discern that they no longer believe, but cannot disbelieve either, and just move along past me not going anywhere.