by Kamala J. Lutatinisibwa
Though things have changed, this is how we used to celebrate Christmas Day...
During childhood in 1980’s and 90’s, the 25th of December was treated as a great and special day. It was Nweli day, my tribal pronunciation of an English word “Noel”.
Neither my parents nor our village mates knew what Christmas meant, that it was the celebration of the birth of Christ. Instead we just knew it was a big day (sikukuu) and had to be vigorously celebrated regardless of ethnicity or religious differences. Both Christians and non-Christians joined their efforts enjoy it. It took some years for village mates to realize that Christmas Day had some historical and spiritual meaning.
Preparation for the Next Christmas day celebration took all year long. The villagers formed groups in which cash was collected gradually from January so that at the end of the year, members of each group could afford to slaughter a cow or a goat, sometimes even a swine. Men always collected money for as much local brew as possible.
As children we had to wake up early in the morning to milk cows and then boil tea for our soon to wake up parents, so they could enjoy their Christmas breakfast.
Beef and other meats had to be prepared in advance. The Christians rushed to our one mud walled church some kilometers from home where all prayers and worship had to be very short since believers wanted to rush home for their beautiful meal being prepared at home after which, everyone wanted to be the first attendee at a local brew pub to irrigate their throat.
Christmas day was almost the one and only one day in which the youngsters could wear a necktie carelessly of type of a dress covering one’s body. Remember we used to buy oversize clothes so that we could grow up with them. Sometimes your eldest brother decided to equip you with his shirts and shoes for Christmas day.
Sometimes a relative living abroad would send us some shoes for Christmas carelessly of the size that fits you. It was like a comedy show as we walked to and from our village church. Almost everyone had developed a new walking style - some could limp, others walked as if they are preventing their shoes from leaving their legs.
Our eating place had no chairs, and we had to sit down on the floor with neckties and with our oversized new clothes. But we would invite our neighbor for lunch and everyone would enjoy being together.
As young boys, we did anything to prove our superiority in order to attract girls. I remember one Christmas day when I with three friends, happened to have a few coins. We bought one bottle of Coca-Cola, then we carried the bottle by all the houses that where girls of our age lived while holding it. It added our names into the number of the village’s superstars since not many young people knew the taste of Coca-Cola.
At around 5pm, we started drinking our coke, one at a time. Our teeth were strong enough to open the bottle, so no opening machine was needed. Each could take one swallow and hand the bottle to his waiting neighbor. We did this repeatedly especially when we came across girls. But we ended up fighting, since the bottle seemed to be emptied before quenching our thirst. The last person to take a swallow was always blamed for having a big mouth - otherwise the soda couldn’t finish so easily. Yet history was made - these guys drank coke during Christmas Day!
Don’t ask me about our fathers and brothers – by then they were in the local bar, irrigating their throats with local brew. They always shouted at one another strongly since after inhaling local brew, it converted everyone into thinking their cleverness was more than others and had to speak it out. By the end of the night only a few of them could manage to stand on their own feet.
Our moms and sisters stayed at home cleaning dishes. People passing by congratulated us for seeing such a great day. Our fathers remained in bars until the next day for gulped brew didn't allow them to walk on their own feet.
The next day was referred to as a second Christmas day, (you call it Boxing Day) many villagers were injured as a result of fights and violence aggravated by excessive consumption of standard-less local brew. Above all, many of us ended up with stomachaches since we had over-eaten on Christmas Day.
And Nweli seemed to always end with a number of misunderstandings that had to be solved by village elders. Nowadays things are different, knowledge has spread and therefore Christmas Day is celebrated only by Christians and not by everyone anymore.
Do people still drink like crazy? I don’t know, but something good is that when it comes to celebrations, especially when you don’t know what and why are you celebrating, things prove great, well and good. You simply have to enjoy without questioning.
At the end of the day, we washed our clothes and shoes, ready for the next great day! New groups had to be formed early in January to prepare for the coming December, Things have changed, we are educated, dwelling somewhere in cities, but we can never forget our past, this is in a nutshell how we celebrated Christmas day in my local village in Bugandika Ward, Kagera region, somewhere in Tanzania.
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Kamala J. Lutatinisibwa is a citizan journalist and journalism student at the Open University in Tanzania. You can read more of his work on his blog.