Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas Greetings and Wishes...

Christmas cards come in many sizes and shapes, with a variety of greetings. Not everybody "does" Christmas, I realize that. But we did - and still do. If I could take you back to Christmas 1951, you might have gotten a personalized greeting from a proud couple, who happened to be baseball fans. Which reminds me: We'll need to talk about Cuban baseball another time. That is a subject worthy of its own web log.

Anyway, getting back on track to Christmas...had you been invited to come in and visit at calle LaCret 378, you would have enjoyed a cheerful, typical and boisterous Cuban gathering of Quirogas, Granjas, friends, and neighbors. If it was Nochebuena - Christmas Eve - likely you would have enjoyed a meal of tender, roast pork, beans and white rice, maybe yuca, sweet fried plantains, sweet desserts, ranging from natillas to pudines, flan, and some traditional Spanish turron, or almond nougat. And of course, some nice drinks, perhaps cerveza. For me, am sure it was milk. In later years, Christmas Eve dinner tended to gravitate to my abuela or grandmother Maria's...she lived, as extended Cuban families tended to do, with her 2 sons, 2 daughters, a son in law, and her grandson, my cousin Fernando - the one who later liked to taunt pompous, legend-in-their-own-mind types dressed in olive drab. Her cooking skills were well appreciated at these warm, family gatherings, and she usually kept me, and later, my sister, as the adults went off to enjoy adult time, including, no doubt, attending midnight Christmas Eve church services. I still remember mother putting on her "velo" or veil, at church.

Wish I'd had the time to really go through the photo vault to bring you more images of fondly-remembered times for this post. One could write pages about celebrating Christmas in Cuba, in those pre-El Grincho times. And since, after all, we have the tradition here in the good ol' USA, of the 12 Days of Christmas, perhaps before the 12 Days of Christmas are over, it may be possible to delve deeper into this wonderful time, back then, in more detail so as to do it justice - maybe even in living Technicolor. But if not this year, then maybe next - who knows, next year, Christmas in Havana?

And by the way, one gift the little boy in the photograph never received was the gift of athletic prowess, Havana baseball league suit notwithstanding. No throwing arm, no batting, infield, outfield, pitching, catching, umpiring ability. Nada. Yet, the little boy was to have a daughter who excels in athletics - perhaps proving that, if nothing else, God has a sense of humor...

And for you sports fans from those days, this question: What was Havana's big rival in the baseball wars of those days? Sorry, no prizes for answering the question correctly. Just the satisfaction of remembering those days of friendly rivalries, settled skilfully and enthusiastically in the various baseball fields/stadiums dotting Havana and its environs.

And for you collectors of vintage Christmas tree ornaments - those hanging from the tree in the photograph were likely German-made, of that fragile glass which seemed to break if you just looked at it the wrong way. I have some vague memories of these ornaments, and seem to recall gold, blue, and silver as the prominent colors for these - to me anyway - beautiful decorations. In later years, "bubbling lights" made their appearance, and now are even being reproduced. Except now, most of the decorations are stamped "made in China."

The last Christmas we celebrated in Havana was Christmas, 1959. By then, El Grincho was showing his displeasure at this, to him and his band of spoilsports, "bourgeois, Yankee-imperialist superstitious practice." I remember one day, playing in the garden level of the Focsa building with a couple of my 'lil buddies, around Christmastime, when we started talking excitedly about what Santa might bring. One of them, out of the blue, said: "Are your parents putting up a Christmas tree? You know, Fidel does not want people putting up Christmas trees." I looked at him, feeling something like shock and anger - after all, I thought - why would "that man" have something against Christmas? I think I blurted out something like, "well, he doesn't tell my mom and dad what to do - WE are putting up a Christmas tree!" How naive was that 9.5 years old boy, wasn't he? But in fact, we did celebrate Christmas that year, as we had every other year before 1959. Little did we know it would be, for us, and no doubt for many others, the Last Christmas In Havana. Sounds like the title for a book or a movie. A sad book, a sad movie.

El Grincho, although making noises of displeasure over Christmas trees, had not yet managed to interfere much with daily commerce. Goodies from-and actually made in-the USA were still coming in. So Cuban boys could still look forward to Santa's visit and their toys. Of course, we had the option of receiving gifts from the Three Wise Men on Epiphany, January 6. The best of both worlds. And so, mom and dad did their shopping for sis and I - or rather, they told us Santa was doing the shopping. And we believed in Santa and the 3 Wise Men, although one of my classmates at Baldor school, maybe the year before, had expressed his belief that the Three Wise Men were in fact "papa, mama, y el bolsillo." Meaning: "Dad, mom, and their pockets." Today we might say "mom, dad, and the benjamins." Or the euros, yen, pounds, or whatever passes for currency these days.

And that year Santa Claus left a "Sons of Liberty" rubber soldier playset for me. A playset through which a boy's imagination could recreate exciting skirmishes between American colonials and George III's disciplined ranks. And here it is, no, not mine, someone else's, but this will have to do:

I believe in at least giving attribution for borrowed images, and in case one of you collectors hunger for such a set - this came from - except their website indicated this particular set was - sold. Sorry. Didn't mean to get you too excited.

The playset came with a colonial stone house/stronghold; plastic trees, rocks or emplacements from which determined Continentals could fire their muskets against equally determined battle-hardened British and Hessian troops. Colonials, or Continentals, as you wish,like these -

The colonials done in blue - Carolina blue, to be exact. Do not mean to offend anyone, but understand my better half is a North Carolinian. And from North Carolina many hardy revolutionaries joined the fray, a long long time ago, to fight the tyrants of their day. "If God is not a Tarheel, then why is the sky Carolina Blue?"

Their worthy foes, determined British and Hessian veterans, such as these -

By the way, the manufacturer, Louis Marx and Company was no marxist. Just a good 'ol free-enterprise firm which made lotsa fun things for girls and boys - and here in the USA, too.

The 2 images came from - if you are into toy soldier collecting, you may want to look them up. Maybe these could be under YOUR Christmas tree.

After the battle,the brave American Continentals and their worthy British foes could gather for tea, or rum? Or whisky? In the cozy stone house/redoubt, in a civilized setting, and toast each other's courage...


And you are getting bored by now, with tales of these bloodless battles between rubber men, horses, cannon, and painted metal "stone" houses. I'm sorry to do this to you, but if you've read this far - courage! Stand your ground amidst the gunpowder smoke, the flashing flints, the grim bayonets! We're getting to the point.

The set included this little flag:

46 years later, given the atmosphere of the Season in 1959, I wonder: When mom and dad bought this wonderful playset for my last Cuban Christmas, did they intend the gift to convey a certain message? A Sons of Liberty game...a little boy playing games with little Sons of Liberty men, blue ones against RED(!) ones, as Cuban sons and daughters of Liberty were losing their freedom, little by little, every day, to a grinch who would have made George III shine as an enlightened, benevolent ruler in comparison.

I left these childhood things behind, when we took the final journey into exile on November 10, 1960. But wait - that's not the whole story. The night before, or maybe that morning, as we were doing last-minute packing, I realized I needed to take something along to keep me entertained in the weeks to come. So I found a plastic bag, and stuffed it full of as many of the little rubber army men whose commander-in-chief I was; WWII army men, frontiersmen and cowboys, Indians, Continentals and Redcoats. About 30 of them, or so. And off to Aruba and into exile they went. Never to return to their happy hunting grounds.

And 45 years later, this Christmas, one lone survivor from that Sons of Liberty set still stands proudly, still in my possession; maimed, but still wielding the remains of his broken musket, grim determination mixed with fear in his face, survivor of many bloodless battles and skirmishes, surviving the claws of El Grincho. Not to worry, my little rubber friend - no more battles to fight for you; just a happy, well-earned retirement in peace, aging - hopefully in a graceful manner - alongside an aging kid-at-heart. Sons of Liberty, both of us, all of us. Reminding us of one of the greatest Christmas gifts we have ever received from Him, the Reason for the Season - LIBERTY.

And what would I like to have for Christmas 2005? Well, I don't need anything. The Christmas Child has given me many gifts and blessings over the years. It would take another blog to detail them all. This is all I want for Christmas 2005, and I will address this not to Santa Claus or the Three Wise Men. I will address the request, in the name of the Christmas Child to El Grincho de La Habana:


At 3:41 PM, Anonymous kathleen said...

Merry Christmas Albert! What an archive you are building here, every post is like a Cuban Norman Rockwell, if that makes sense. What a wonderful gift for all of us. Thanks

At 1:20 PM, Blogger Alfredo said...


What a wonderful post! great picture of you in the baseball uniform. Your story and that of many others would make a "reality"
book or movie of what really happened in Cuba.

God bless and Merry Christmas!

At 3:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey quiroga,nice blog
merry cristmas to all,eres un escritor de categoria

At 11:30 AM, Blogger Carmen said...

I loved your posting!! great story! and by the way, I think that little boy in the picture should at least manage the "Free Cuba" team to play against Castro!!
My brother also played with "soldaditos" I remember he had a great battlefield with all the boys in El Vedado...every Christmas my brother would get another addition to his army of rubber men...until el hijo de puta decided no more toys for kids in Cuba!


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