Christmas is a holiday on the 25th of December on which Christians from around the world for two millennia have celebrated the anniversary of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth from whose teachings sprung their religion. I’ll skip all the jingle bell melodies and the beautiful thoughts of a one horse open sleigh to tell you all about a Christmas in Uganda. Christmas is popularly known as ‘Ssekukulu’ in the Central or ‘Ekyiro kyikuru’ in the West to mean ‘Important day’ and is marked mainly by sharing food, love, reuniting family and new clothes.
The majority of people living in urban areas travel upcountry to prepare for the festivities with their extended families as early as 15th December resulting in hiked bus fares by almost double the usual fee.
Stores are well decorated with the festive colors; red and green with a well-placed Father Christmas (read as Santa) shouting Christmas offers outside the store occasionally breaking into a song accompanied with a few dance routines and handing out candy to whoever cares to stop and smile. Half the products in the store are on discount and others are double their original price but irrespective of the latter, every other store in town is filled with people shopping in bulk.
My favorite part about Christmas morning is driving around my village down in Rwampara, Mbarara giving gifts to every other person in my grandmother’s good books before we dress up for church. They say ‘A good turn deserves another’ so she keeps a list of whoever does her a favor throughout the year and rewards them every Christmas morning without fail. Did I forget to mention that we buy new clothes every other Christmas lest you risk being the only one at church with not a pair of shoes, a dress or even a gomesi to show off? As we make for church, my mother, some aunties and a few cousins stay behind to prepare lunch.
The church is decorated with matooke stems, fresh leaves, a few balloons and very bright flowers inside out. Being at the top of a hill, you can see people struggling to catch the sermon through the windows indicating that church is full to the brim. It’s hard to know how many people to budget for when expanding the church, some people pray only on Christmas and other’s stay in urban centers and are only around on festive holidays like this. The ushers stand at every entrance mumbling a ‘Ruhanga Asiimwe’ loosely translated as Praise God to every one entering church and allocating front seats strategically to whoever comes in a car. Almost no one is paying attention to the sermon I guarantee. Blame that on those pacing up and down pretending to pick a phone call or two whilst showing off a new dress or better yet, the countdown to lunch hour. Should the sermon go an extra minute after 1pm, the cleric is likely to speak to an empty church.
Food is undeniably the best part about Christmas year after the other. Instead of exchanging gifts and souvenirs, we share food as a family and as a community. I know it’s my favorite tradition because it’s one of the special days my mother prepares ‘Eshabwe’, a class of clarified butter that originates from Ankole served as a condiment with the main course meal e.g. karo (millet bread), potatoes, matooke, beans and plenty of other mouth watering dishes to choose from.
The beauty about Christmas around the entire world is the love, joy, sharing and merrymaking that come with the holiday. One week into December and I am already warming up for all the Christmas routines and festivities. What is your favorite Christmas tradition?