new_releases Christmas – Our Style

by Helmut Egesa Wagabi

Published in Issue No. 199 ~ December, 2013

If you thought that the old Scandinavian tradition of Christmas was introduced to Africa by missionaries in the 18th century, then think again. My Luhya community in Kenya has tales of how end year celebrations were conducted long before the white missionaries arrived in the area. Christmas celebrations were always preceded by marriage ceremonies because it was believed that ending a year and beginning another one meant transformation and this had to be expressed through leaving singlehood and entering marriage for all young men and women of marriageable age.

Then there were the Christmas celebrations in which people expressed great joy through eating and drinking all kinds of meats and traditional brews. Roast mutton and pork were and still are the delicacies for most people because they are normally not eaten regularly like beef and chicken. All family members are expected to be together for the celebrations and so most of those who live and work in towns and cities save and take time off from work to travel to their rural homes for the occasion. Women are usually busy at this time with elaborate cooking of such dishes as chapatti and colored rice also known as biryani (a dish of curried meat served with the colored rice) while the men lend a hand in roasting the meats. Men prefer the roasts because they are easy to prepare and also tasty.

Christmas is a great time for carousing. Men drink homemade brews that are concoctions of sorghum and millet solution, honey and yeast. Many believe the brews are not alcoholic but those who take them end up looking more sozzled than those taking certified brews. The drunkards will sing and dance while women and children watch delightedly.   A lot of excitement for Christmas tends to be in the villages where small children eagerly wait for their uncles and cousins to bring them all sorts of gifts, which usually include new clothes, toys and shoes. Most of the kids in the rural areas never put on shoes and so feel ecstatically happy when presented with a pair of shoes. You will find them excitedly skipping all over the place as they nibble cookies prepared by their mothers. Young girls, who have no access to modern salons, also spruce themselves up for the occasion by improvising hairdryers  from a used tin to  which is added a piece of hot charcoal and passed over the Vaseline-applied hair to straighten it. All this is done in the name of Christmas.

A majority of the people attend church on Christmas day for the purpose of meeting their friends who may have been away in the cities for years. Even the traditionalists also go to church carrying their brews in specially made gourds so that they can sip on as the service progresses. To them, the celebrations cannot be complete without the brews. Children and adults also worship together unlike on other occasions when children are allowed to attend Sunday school classes. The reason for this being the desire of the clergy to complete the service within the shortest time possible and allow the members to join others in the many activities taking place. A pastor once made a casual comment just before the service began and said, “Let’s rush the service that we may find plenty of time to spoil ourselves.” Various competitions are held to mark Christmas and will often include: swimming for young people, canoe racing and even football for the rural youths. This means many walk long distances to get to the lake where the activities are taking place and participate in them. Prizes are given by the area member of parliament as an expression of solidarity with them.

The Luhya people love the cock and it is usually at Christmas that cockerels are selected, taken to a field and allowed to fight one another. A lot of people, including adults, go to watch this game and cheer the cockerels so hard that you might think they are boxers in the ring. At the end of the game, the owner of the winning cockerel is presented with a trophy. Bull fighting is another activity enjoyed by some people. It is believed that the best bull can be hired by the villagers to breed with their cows to produce healthy animals that can fetch a good price in the market and also ensure huge milk yields. All these simple games are reserved for Christmas.

The excitement of the season always has a salubrious effect on the people. Very few go to hospitals and bed occupancies drop drastically to worrying levels for the administration. Service delivery is also affected as most workers concentrate on plans for Christmas – how they will travel and deliver the gifts to their loved ones in the village. The pace of work in towns generally slackens off and medical officers in the private sector hardly find business around this time. The transport industry, on the contrary, does booming business. Many city dwellers travel to their rural homes and those in the villages make various visits to their friends in the neighboring villages. Goods too are ferried up-country in gigantic sizes because that is where the action is taking place.

Christmas is therefore a time when everyone’s attention is arrested and palpable joy is felt among the  people. It’s like everybody takes leave even when others have to continue working throughout the period. At the end of the season, all report back to their places of work reinvigorated and with interesting tales of the enjoyment they had. Everybody looks forward to the season because it appears to be the only time when all strain and stress are taken away from the lives of my people. It is a time religious barriers are set aside and people get into celebrations as family members and good neighbors. Social misconduct may be reported but there are usually no serious incidents of violence and criminality. All recognize it is a time to be happy and wish one another well.

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Helmut Egesa Wagabi holds an Associate Degree in Biblical studies from Family Radio School of the Bible in Oakland, California and is a regular contributor to Christian Magazines such as Group in Colorado, USA. He holds a Diploma in Creative writing from the Writers Bureau College of Journalism, UK. Helmut has a passion for communicating edifying messages to all young people interested in learning truth.