I remember, as a child, seeing my mom and my aunts, just before Three Kings Day (my childish mind could not calculate the time), sewing, knitting and painting. Everyone assumed the task they did best. I, being young, could not understand why all this hard work, always more or less at the same time. Over time, I realized that they were engaged in the beautiful task of restoring toys and dolls that my sister and I had outgrown, as well as the toys and dolls of other children, also discarded, brought over as a contribution by friends whose mothers were not as skilled as mine.
These toys, which shined like new, were carried by my Uncle Ignacio, disguised as one of the Wise men, on January 5 in the morning, who had put them in a sack and was leaving them in different houses in the neighborhood for poor families with little income and poor nutrition. At that time I also believed blindly in the fantasy of the arrival of the Kings and as I had been taught, I left behind water and hay for the camels.
I grew up happy, like my friends, for all those fine traditions that our families had taught us, plus other learned in school, which made us better people: when you get so much love, it is easier to give some to others.
Came the year 1959 and with it, the big changes that sunk our country into the darkness of a forced atheism. One of the first days that underwent drastic changes was Three Kings Day, which was not only converted into Children’s Day, but it was moved from January to July. Nothing to do with the old festival! “We must do away with the traditions,” said the maximum leader of the country. Gradually all the Holidays were changed, as well as their meaning.
And so we arrived at the prohibition on Christmas trees, which, if not by decree, was accomplished by fear induced in the people, who learned to not give themselves away. I remember a friend who worked at the Ministry of Internal Trade, as a decorator, who told me how there were orders “from above” to collect all the Christmas ornaments from all the shops in the commercial sector, from where they were carried to a place called Cayo Cruz, where he smashed them with a roller, until they were all reduced to rubble.
But that was not the worst. The toys were to be limited to three per child, a basic toy (the best) and two additional tows of a lower category. Then in the seventies, some genius with power decided that we had to take turns by telephone, on the indicated day and hour. I remember that day when all of us waited until nine at night , to call the same number, the whole city at the same time. The phone system collapsed. Many people who did not have telephones in their homes went to the public phones, usually located at the doors of the stores. I remember how the windows of St. Lazarus 1005 shattered into pieces from the force of so many people who wanted to be the first to access the public phones there.
Then they invented lottery numbers based on the number of your ration card, where the child could not hope to win more than a bicycle or some other moderate toy, and only three or four in each establishment where the toys were raffled off. Adults had to go with their children, because if a child didn?t win, he had to choose on the spot a toy that remained, in spite of any nervousness or confusion which led to tears and discomfort, as well as the anguish and suffering of the parents, not to mention losing the entire morning and sometimes all afternoon for this macabre management to play out.
Years later, in the nineties, with the arrival of the first investors, and the subsequent “liberation of the dollar”, they stopped holding these lotteries and simply sold toys at unreasonably high prices in dollars, a currency in which they were not paid or even received in retirement. Thus, over time, the habit of giving toys to children has disappeared throughout the entire year, not to mention January 6th.
However, some people like me who refuse to lose this beautiful and definitely Christian tradition still give presents on this day to our children, (those who have the good fortune to have them around) or to the smallest kids in our neighborhood.
A few years ago, when I was bringing a present to my little neighbor, his dad met me at the door, and when I told him that I had a gift that the Three Kings had left for his son, he told me, “but I do not believe in the Kings”, to which I replied, “but I do!”
This, like many other traditions that enriched our popular imagination, have been “amputated without anesthesia,” from our national identity.