14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 5 January 2017 – Chocolates, toys and technology star in the letters that Cuban children are writing to the Three Kings right now. The tradition of giving gifts to children on Epiphany, the 6th of January – the day the Three Kings are believed to have reached the manger to honor Jesus’ birth – arrived with force after decades of fierce atheism, but this year the economic crisis has cut the expectations of gifts.
Patricia, 28, works in a private day care center in Havana’s Miramar neighborhood. Last week she helped the children write letters addressed to Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar. “Most asked for electronic tablets, cars with batteries or video games,” she says.
The children at Patricia’s nursery are the children of parents with a high purchasing power: foreigners resident in the country or owners of private restaurants. They are willing to pay between 60 and 100 Cuban convertible pesos a month (about the same in dollars) for the care of their children and to satisfy all their whims for January 6.
However, the picture is very different in the vast majority of families. “I warned them that they have to ask for something cheap, because I have had many expenses,” says Yaimara, the mother of two girls, ages five and ten. The woman finished repairing the roof of her house and has been left in a complicated economic situation.
“The thing is, it’s not like before,” reflects Yaimara, who complains that “everything has gone up in price” and she cannot “reach into my wallet and buy toys, because now everything goes for food.”
A box with pieces to set up a small zoo costs 27.90 CUC, the monthly salary of a qualified state worker
The network of state markets is preparing for the occasion. The centrally located Carlos III Plaza in Havana has one of the toy stores most frequented lately. Inside, dolls compete with kitchen sets, costumes and small musical instruments.
A box with pieces to set up a small zoo costs 27.90 CUC, the monthly salary of a qualified state worker. Lower-income families buy plastic figurines or crystal marbles. “I’ve been saving up for this all year,” a grandmother told 14ymedio as she bought a truck with a tiny driver.
Others ask the Magi for food. “I want chocolates and soft drinks,” says Daniela, a sixth grader from a school in Cerro. Her parents warned her that “there is no money for toys” and the girl has adjusted her expectations in line with the family’s wallet.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the Government supplied subsidized toys through a rationed market for industrial products. With the fall of the Soviet Union that was eliminated. Those who were children then are now parents and juggle to meet the demands of their own children.
For them, informal commercial networks are an alternative. For 25 CUC, the Revolico classified site (a kind of Cuban Craigslist) offers Lego City sets* that include three small figures: a deep sea diver and two scuba divers. Cheaper options are inflatable balls for 3 CUC, jump ropes for only 1 CUC and teddy bears for less than 5 CUC.
*Translator’s note: The Lego Deep Sea Starter Set – which appears to be the set referred to – is available for less than $10 (in some cases much less) in the United States. 25 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) is roughly $25.