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Children's birthdays in Cuba: joy or anguish?

Parents whose children have birthdays in December have their hands full. The situation can be truly upsetting.

La Habana

In Cuba, as in any other country in the world, a child's birthday is a celebration that is looked forward to. However, for many families it is also a cause for concern, as the cost of these parties is rising, and many are no longer be able to afford them.

Selena Arias, a resident of El Roble, Santa Fe, is a single mother of a little boy who just turned three.

"Adrián was born on November 29," she tells us. "I had promised him a party and to gave him a little car, which cost 7.00 CUC. I saved for months to buy the little things for the piñata and the gift, but when I went to the store with the money I found that the price of the car had gone up to 12.00 CUC. I explained to my child that I did not have enough money, but he didn't understand, and started to cry. I cried with him. Finally, I bought him something else that he didn’t like. It was a waste of money."

Another mother who recently celebrated a birthday is Kenya, a custodian at a social center for workers.

"Some things I got at my workplace, like the masks, glasses, spoons, croquettes and soft drinks," she explains. "But the rest cost me a lot of money. The hats, baskets, ornaments, garlands, story and coloring books cost me 300 pesos (CUP). Then there were the spinning tops, the kitchen toys, the jacks. The least expensive piñata I found was a Mickey Mouse for 140 pesos. The cake was 30 CUC, which is equivalent to 760 pesos. Add to that the candies, cookies, balloons, snacks, and
salad. I was wiped out."

Although the Revolution announced the elimination of social differences, they are clearly evident at birthday parties. Wealthy families rent places at the Zoo, the Aquarium, Lenin Park, or rooms at the social centers. They hire clowns, rent cotton candy machines, give away expensive gifts to those invited, and even hire musical groups. Humbler parents, meanwhile, struggle just to give their kids the simplest kind of birthday celebration.

A very popular solution is the "pica cake", which consists of a simple party with few friends, featuring an affordable cake from the state sweetshop, and soft drinks and sweets. But this option does not satisfy children who have seen wealthier families throw lavish parties.

"This year we couldn't give Marita the party she wanted," says Lourdes, a resident of the Juan Manuel Márquez district, in the municipality of Playa. "We didn't have any money, so we decided to make do a pica cake party. It turned out to be a disaster. The guests all complained. Marita was crushed, and depressed. She didn't talk to us for a week. I think it's why she failed her midterms at school."

Another solution parents have discovered is, rather than throwing a party, giving their children clothing, or gifts, or an outing.

"But it's a solution that's a trap," says Ernesto, with three children and a lot of experience with birthdays. "I work at a Marine Research Institute and my wife is a primary school teacher. We can't make ends meet on what we make, and we also celebrate three birthdays. In April we asked Luisito to give up his birthday party for a gift. He asked for a bike. The cheapest one cost 120.00 CUC, equivalent to 2,800 pesos, my salary for the year. Impossible! In August it was Carlitos's turn. He wanted a tablet. 60.00 CUC. In November it was Ana Carla's birthday and she asked for... a laptop! In the end we talked it over and worked it out. We bought them some clothes and took them out. When we looked at the numbers, we realized that it had been much more expensive than having a little party."

Parents with children whose birthdays are in December face a real challenge. In a month with so many celebrations, the situation can be downright upsetting.

"Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day," lists Caridad Montana. December 22, the Day of the Teacher, is also a problem. And then, in January there are the Three Wise Men, who have returned to Cuba. What poor family can afford all that? "

Caridad has even had to lie to her daughters, because she does not have enough money for even half of the celebrations.

"In the Paquete Semanal (digital material collection) at the end of the cartoons, these party centers have ads, with generous buffets and places that look like something out of a Disney movie," she says. "My daughters asked me for a party like that one, and I had to tell them that those were in another country. It pained me that they actually are here in Cuba, but I cannot give them that kind gift, even though they're two great girls with good grades at school."

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