Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. -

November 20, 1998, Cuba Free Press.


HAVANA - The money should not have had such a destiny, perhaps, but on Saturday, November 7, I spent US$6.50 on a 24-inch artificial Christmas tree, imported from the "May's Free Zone" of the free port of Colon, Panama. It came in a cardboard box which also held the ornaments.

"They are selling little Christmas trees for only $6.50," said the lady at the end of the line. "They are the same as those costing $14 in the other places."

So we went back home and I found enough money; it would be the first time that our family would have a Christmas tree.

When the child and I returned home, the recriminations began at one once: "With that money, you could have bought a chicken, and you would have had change enough for a package of Canadian sausages!"

But Yania, my granddaughter, was brimming with excitement. I tried to convince her that it was not yet time to put up the tree. But she, at her four years, could not fathom my logic. So, since that night, the traditional decoration presides over the living room table of our modest apartment.

We placed it in the only spot possible, on top of the old Russian TV box, with its black and white pictures, which you can no longer see. But you can at least hear. (An imperfection that does not trouble my mother, at 84 years, who every night turns on the machine to "see" the news.)

What occurred in our house will be happening in an infinity of homes throughout the country. Naturally, the trees will be found only among those families that have, somehow, managed to scrounge up some dollars. Since the beginning of November, the stores authorized to sell for dollars, the so-called "shoppins" (Spanish for shopping) began to sell Christmas ornaments. And many of them were even decked out for the annual celebration of Christianity.

In some stores, one can even find a Santa Claus, and down on Obispo Street, in Old Havana, there is a store that shows the traditional European-tradition Father Noel in its windows. He is seated in front of a washbasin, bathing his feet.

The commercial intentions are evident. Every end of the year is magnificent for the arrival of the tourists but the "shoppins" are more tilted toward attracting the eyes of the Cubans than of the foreigners. If in 1997, before the Pope's visit to Cuba, December was the month of countless dollar sales, this year the figures will be much greater.

In the CADECAS - money exchange stores - distributed in all the neighborhoods of the capital, at all hours one sees interminable lines of people. One does not have to be very bright to recognize that since the first of November, the Cubans living in United States, Spain and other countries across the globe have begun to send dollars so that their relatives on the island can celebrate the arrival of the new year.

The same observations may be made at the "shoppins," the cafeterias, the candy shops and the hardware stores that sell items for dollars. Almost everybody, at least in Havana, is duplicating their debts daily.

The Cubans of 1998 have in their favor the fact that December 24, the day for Christmas Eve celebrations, falls on a Thursday. The means that Friday, December 25, will be taken as a day off by most of the population, whether or not the state declares it a holiday. And then they will have Saturday and Sunday as the rest of the holiday season.

And this year, as in the past, the Cubans hope that his Holiness, Pope John Paul II, will again send his message of love and hope. Because, as was said some 40 years ago by a then-popular actress, "One must have faith that everything will arrive in time."

Tania Quintero, Cuba Free Press.

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