So Christmas is upon us. Once again. I got to thinking about Christmas thanks to my good friend, Jossi Tinga, who blogged about his Christmas experiences in Queensland, away from home in Kenya . See, Jossi Tinga, like me, is a rural boy at heart. Whenever I get to thinking about Christmas I have a myriad of thoughts and past experiences fly through my mind: new clothes, good vibes, plenty food. A time to be merry.
But I also get images of forced church services, overindulgence, excessive ‘festive adverts’ on television, over-the-top Christmas decorations in shops. Christmas trees and snow also come to mind: stop sneering, I know hell would have to freeze many times over before it snowed on Christmas on the Southern tip of Africa, but that’s not the point. The point is through what seems like a hundred Christmases I have no image that counters the snow-covered Christmas tree image! Even my four-year old girl knows the stuff around Christmas trees is snow, even though it’s never snowed on Christmas here.
Before it sounds like I have an axe to grind with anybody who loves the snow-covered Christmas tree image let me make this clear, I celebrate Christmas as the day when Jesus Christ was born. That’s significant to me. It’s also significant that the ‘festive season’ has been transformed into family time, the one time when family feuds are put aside and members can relate without animosity. I’m a sucker for the good vibes that prevail around this time of the year.
What I don’t get is what happened (and when) that the birth of Jesus became a signal to engage in unparalleled frenzied spending. I was once a beneficiary of such spending as a little person. I loved the new clothes, not because it was Christmas but because I wasn’t left out when the rest of the kids in our village paraded their new clothes. The Christmas tree was not in the picture then and snow wasn’t even a concept I could wrap my head around.
Christmas in the villages meant dads coming back home from work in Johannesburg, with goods and goodies. None of this “Mary’s Boy Child” on permanent repeat in malls! The only person who surely loves this is Boney M, who probably looks to Christmas as we all should, the birth of the savior. Only, Boney M expects a different kind of savior, the sound of money hitting the till machine every festive season when everybody suddenly realizes that in last year’s drunken stupor they misplaced their Boney M CD.
In the village, us kids couldn’t wait to bath on Christmas day, the same can’t be said about bathing on the other days though. We would be dressed in entirely new clothes from head to toe and herded off to church. This was the one day where the “missionary village” part of our heritage came out in full force. Elim, where I was born, was apparently one of the first to receive white missionaries when they arrived. As a result, we had a fully-functional “Swiss Mission” church on a hill, where it still stands to this day. On Christmas, even your sworn heathens went to church, nobody wanted to be left out. The Nativity play was staged on Christmas day. I don’t remember ever being part of one, I suppose my teachers just noted early on, “this one can’t act”, so I was left out of the story of the birth Jesus(sob! sob!). It could be that I was once an extra but who remembers being an extra?
Every family I knew had ‘Christmas food’ on the day, the basis of which was chicken and rice. You had all sorts of other colourful vegetables on the menu but slaughtered chicken was just the thing to do. This was true free range chicken which could take you up to an hour to catch if you had an unfenced yard like most families did. I suppose part of enjoying the chicken came from knowing you had to work your socks off to catch the bugger. God bless you if you had to catch and slaughter two or three different chickens. You’d swear these chickens had been on training to run away from you for the whole year.
And rice. For everybody. Yeah, rice wasn’t always for everybody in those days. Nooo!. The more well-to-do families had it every Sunday, but even they appreciated that rice signified special occasions. It brings a smile to my face that what we considered luxury, rice, is a staple food for billions around the world.
Following the Christmas meal after church, it was time to parade our new clothes, going from one family to another as a group and trying to stay clean. Baked Queen’s cakes with Oros (cool drink if you were lucky) were on offer at most homes so yes, we ate our tummies sore. This generally festive mood lasted just about until New Year’s. Plenty of food and good neighborliness.
Even the village drunkard was welcome into most homes. Those that brewed home-made beer would offer it to their guests on arrival, and the village drunk would always wedge himself in to the group. Nobody would shoo him away like they would during the year. It was a time to be festive. Contrast this with the urban setting where I heard a caller on radio appealing for “consideration for those whose families are not around this festive season”. This would never happen in the villages, everybody became family around this time. Oh, what we gave up for life in the city!
And then one grew up, malls took over and Christmas trees became the norm. And fake snow. The one unparalleled joy of urban Christmas are the Christmas lights. People go to town on those, makes you wish it was Christmas all year round. I suppose the festive spirit makes one ignore all the clutter and zone in on what they like, I like the lights. And the birth of Jesus, lest we forget.
If I could replace the snow-covered Christmas tree with another image it would be an image of a child in new clothes, from head to toe. That’s what Christmas meant to me. What did it mean to you?
Have a merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year, thank you for reading this far, you made my 2013!