HAVANA, Dec. 26th. With a large red bag on his shoulder, a former actor dressed as Santa Claus gives candy to children while walking the streets of Havana, a city where parents have to do magic and juggle to get toys for their children this Christmas.
A little boy writes a letter in his handwriting: “Friend Santa Clo, for this Christmas I would like as a gift, a remote control car, soap, candy, a cart, a telephone, a ball, markers, Atari and a pair of flip flops.”
For this Santa Claus, 54 and an actor by profession who prefers to remain anonymous, the important thing is to create an illusion. “There will be those who have a better Christmas, those who will have a worse one (…) the important thing is that there are dreams and that dreams are not lost,” he tells AFP dressed in the traditional red and white suit, boots and hat included.
“Reading the letters is like entering a diary” where each person “puts what they feel, what they think,” he adds with a group of children hovering around him in Marianao, a populous neighborhood in the west of Havana.
But in a crisis like the one Cuba is currently facing, not all minors’ wishes can come true.
“Either I buy the toys or the shoes or the clothes or the food and the clothes and the food are better than the toys,” says Lin Vania Alonso, a 49-year-old grandmother, as she walks past informal stalls selling cheaply imported games. quality, on a busy avenue in Central Havana.
Lin remembers with nostalgia that when she was a child, toys were distributed through the “supply book” which, on the island governed by the Communist Party, provided food and basic products for everyone.
Each minor received coupons for three toys on Children’s Day, which is celebrated in Cuba in June.
“Dolls, skates, kitchen toys, even a bicycle once they gave me,” she says, transporting herself to the past. “Quite a few things they gave me back in the day, but that’s gone,” she finished in the late 1980s, she laments.
She did not touch her daughter Yanisleydi Alonso, 22 years old and mother of a two-year-old child. However, this young woman assures that, regardless of her difficulties, her little one will have her toy this Christmas.
“I try to give him his little gift, maybe it’s not a very expensive gift, but I always try to give him something,” she says with the child in her arms.
The state-run toy stores that opened when coupons ran out now look abandoned. Parents are forced to look for gifts on Facebook pages, WhatsApp groups or gift shops, where expensive toys for an average Cuban family are offered.
In 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic, Yulién Granados, a 35-year-old small businessman, faced the same problem and looked for a solution. Locked in with his family due to confinement, he couldn’t find a way to entertain his then five-year-old son.
“All the toys I really had were few, and then nothing, sitting with my wife and the work team we took on the task of starting in the world of wooden toys,” he says in his workshop, before some of the 19 educational models that they have designed and currently market.
“It has changed my life, how children and parents conceive a wooden toy with a good finish, with good quality, made in Cuba,” he says proudly, showing some geometric figures that stimulate the motor skills of minors. and the association by colors.
Before, this type of children’s products were purchased at a very high cost outside the country, says this islander Gepetto who made the machine to cut the wood for the toys with old tools and iron.
“To be able to continue inventing, as they say in Cuba, you need a great injection of emotion and not let yourself fall and say we are going to continue forward for this, for the children, because it is really necessary,” he adds alongside a friend of childhood who works with him and is also the father of two boys.
In this environment, little by little the Christmas spirit returns to Cuba, lost in some way in 1970, when the revolutionary government suppressed December 25 as a holiday so that the population could join massively in the sugar harvest.
Then the country made a colossal effort to reach the goal of producing ten million tons of sugar, a goal that was not met. In 1997 this holiday was reestablished, after the visit of Pope John Paul II to the island.