15 Days Left of Advent: Old Wooden Dolls & Muñecas de Baquelita

I interviewed my mother—seventy-seven years old now—and with great curiosity I asked her to please share with me her earliest Christmas childhood recollections; of gifts she’d opened on Christmas Eve and of favorite toys she once played with. Since she grew up in a wealthy home, in San Salvador, El Salvador, I figured she must have had it all. On the contrary; she was seen as just a “poor relation,” so she didn’t receive equally with her half brother. Her first real memory of a Christmas gift was receiving a wooden doll, “Chinta,” with only arms that moved, to and fro.

My mother was about five or six years old when she received her doll carved of wood—bought on the street, handmade by the Indios. But to her that doll was priceless; hence why she has never forgotten about her precious Chinta. Chinta went everywhere she went: to the table to eat, into the bath of water, and then off to bed with her. She was her go-everywhere and talk-to companion.

We concluded that it was the baths that Chinta took that became her undoing; one day Chinta just up-and-disappeared. The fact that she was made of wood meant she rotted and was soon only fit for the garbage.

If she received other gifts that Christmas she does not remember. Chinta is all she could remember, because she was all that mattered to her then. There was another Christmas, one she remembers with great fondness. She was about seven or eight when she received another muñeca (doll), this one made of Baquelita—of synthetic plastic—but this one didn’t last long because when handled too much she easily dented. Too, replacement dolls were often killed and toys destroyed at the hands of her little brother. Sigh!

Though her younger brother always received more presents than she did, spoiled with all the best toys his father’s money could buy—all imported from the United States—she didn’t care. She felt no envy; she had her treasures, her muñecas. Even if they were cheap, still, it was more than her friends’ from school could afford. And she was the one to be envied in school!

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