Every year in November each student in our class began fundraising by selling tickets to collect money to ensure that we could put on another Christmas for the poor child. That was the name of the campaign, which had the sole objective of delivering a shopping bag of food by Christmas Eve, and a bag of toys to be delivered on Three Kings day, to the children and families who lived near our school, located in La Vibora. The concept of “poor” would maybe be better described as needy’, since there was no discrimination or investigation to determine who was eligible- anyone who wanted could show up and pick up a bag of groceries and some toys. The prevailing ethical concept in those days was that no family which did not consider itself needy would show up to ask for anything, or let their children do so, because that was understood as something immoral and degrading. This ensured that the delivery of gifts was organized, peaceful, and fair, making everyone who participated pleased and grateful for the gifts received.
For us, the students, the sale of the tickets was a difficult task, because we had to sell among our families, friends and neighbors first, and then amongst uncles, godparents, etc., and eventually the grocer, the butcher and all the other business people that traded with our families. They almost always cooperated. There was a competition amongst the different grades, to see who could collect more, and the results were shown on “Thermometers” which were drawn to one side of the blackboard, in a classroom designated for this, where all the thermometers” of different classes were shown in colored chalk, and updated every week.
In the euphoria of the competition, we sold more and more tickets, ordered new books of tickets each time we sold out, all in order to explode the thermometer, which was considered a triumph. The price of each ticket was twenty cents, and normally we collected between three thousand and five thousand pesos. (Translators’s note- at that time the peso was roughly equivalent to a dollar, and $5,000 was almost enough to buy a house in the United States. A significant amount of money was raised, 20 cents at a time).
The money, carefully spent by purchasing groceries and toys at low prices, was enough to satisfy a lot of needs. This practice was common in most religious schools, which added an additional joy of Christmas, in the places where this custom was established.
The task was assumed by all, not as a burden but as something just and necessary, and took place in an atmosphere of joy, which increased as the “spirit of Christmas ” took hold of us, the city and the country.
I do not remember that anyone who received the gifts, the truly needy were offended or felt less valued by receiving these presents. I did meet lots of people who received presents one year, who did not return the next year, indicating that their economic situation had improved to the point that they no longer needed presents. That was the honesty and solidarity of the Cubans of that era!
In the neighborhood of La Vibora, which was not a poor neighborhood, everyone felt proud of these Christmas activities conducted by the religious schools, which added much joy in those days, now gone, when bonuses of up to a months salary were delivered in every workplace to almost all employees to celebrate the holidays.
Christmas for the poor child, despite its title, was really a humanitarian event for everyone, something that made us more cheerful, happy and inclusive year. We all felt good, those who gave and those who received.
by Fernando Damaso