Monday, December 22, 2008

African Christmas

Baby Jesus in the manger at our Sunday school.

My mom emailed me the other day and asked, “Are there any African traditions for Christmas?” I wondered that too…are there any? Really, Christmas came with the missionaries along with Christianity, and was reinforced probably through colonialism. There are no “tribal African Christmas traditions” per say, well none that I have seen. They put a “tree” in their house and decorate it just like us. Sometimes it’s more like a branch. I think the type of tree they use is a fir tree. They decorate with paper, balloons, tinsel, plastic trinkets and anything they have. The “tree” is definitely not “African”. I have to admit to being pretty disappointed after I asked many Ugandans about African Christmas traditions, and found that they really didn’t have any. Somewhere in my daydreaming of Africa I imagined that there were special dances, drumming, secret games, and ceremonies for the Christmas season. There very well may be some deep in the bush somewhere, or in certain households, but I haven’t found any. But, what I did find out about African Christmas traditions is even better than anything I imagined.
As I sat under the light of the moon the other night I started to chat with our night watchman, George. George worked at the hotel where Jeff and I stayed in 2005. Upon arriving in September this year, Jeff was taking a boda boda (motorcycle taxi) to town quite often. On one of his trips, the boda driver looked up at Jeff and said, “I know you sir, from long ago”. Sure enough they pieced it together that this man was in fact George, the night watchman from the hotel. We had really enjoyed conversations with George and his company at the hotel. He and Jeff talked at length about hunting, life, African culture and other guy stuff. Jeff trapped huge rats around town called the Gambian Pouch rat for George so he could eat them. George insisted that they tasted just like chicken! I could never get myself to try. Once Jeff reconnected with George, we decided to hire him as our night watch man for our 6 months here.

As George and I talked, I asked him about Christmas. He pondered the question about African traditions. What he said fell on my heart like a warm blanket. Well, at Christmas, what I remember is everyone being together. Aunties, uncles, cousins, kids home from boarding school and the house being full. We all went to church and for prayers. Late into the night there was singing and prayers. It was also a time where everyone got something new. I remember getting new clothe-es, a new shirt maybe or a new pair of pants. The girls would get a new dress for Christmas. Everyone got something “new”.” All year the parents saved their shillings for a piece of new clothing. But of course many times the ‘new’ clothing is actually used clothing that you find in the markets here in town. The ‘new’ used clothes could very well have been yours! Places like Goodwill ship palates of used clothing to Africa after they have tried their shot at selling them. I’m sure everyone has made a trip to Goodwill or Savers sometime in their life if not every year as we restock our closets with the latest fashions. Well, all of our discards, all of our trash become treasures here in Africa. And to think most kids nowadays are totally bummed when they get new clothes, unless of course they are teenagers. I was one of those kids when I was young. Getting clothes was about the same as getting a piece of coal in your stocking!!

God has given us the best gift of all...Jesus

George continued, "Then, everyone eats meat at Christmas! It’s the biggest celebration and everyone gets to eat meat on Christmas. Goat, chicken, or beef, some kind of meat” Everyone? I questioned. Everyone? No, not everyone George. How could everyone afford meat George? What about the poorest of the poor George? George exclaimed, “EVERYONE MAMA KT, EVERYONE. Those that cannot afford to buy meat are invited to eat with their neighbors. Everyone will eat meat mama KT. The village will divide all their meat so that not one will go without." A flood of tears welled up in my eyes. I sat in silence as the thought and picture of this buried itself deep in my spirit. How’s that for an African Christmas tradition.

The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel which means, God with us. Matt 1:23

I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. In the town of David a savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:11



jena said...

I miss where you are SO BADLY!!!!

Johnson said...

Great post!

The numbness towards our adoption is starting to wear off. I posted some on my blog. Please pray for us.

Life in Fitzville said...

This is beautiful.

Lois said...






Dono & Laurie said...

Oh sweet KT! I have finally brought myself to a place to 'catch up' on your blog. I admit I can't come here often because it puts such a deep ache in my heart for you guys! I'm praying for you everyday and thinking of you...but reading these stories just reaches into my heart and brings joy and pain! The I MISS YOU SO MUCH pain! I love the story about the meat. it has truly brought me to tears! I can picture it all- what a beautiful story!
Love you Sister