Joy to the world! It’s that time of the year again; Christmas! It’s always a wonderful and exciting time to spend with family and loved ones. It is that time of the year when we meet, dine and feast with our immediate and extended families. I am so much excited about this festive season and as usual, I want to spend it surrounded by the people I care about most.
You never appreciate the magic that comes with spending Christmas with your family members until you are tied down by work or other circumstances. I had really never imagined that I would ever be working on a Christmas day until it happened. That is exactly what adulting entails; a harsh reality that life is not a fairy tale. You have to work your ass off for that pay cheque, sometimes even on Christmas, especially if you are in retail, service or hospitality industries. The festive season also happens to be the busiest (peak season) at work and you simply have to be there.
That means missing out on the festivities if you don’t live close to your family. FOMO. I miss the traditional family Christmas that I had always enjoyed throughout childhood and early adulthood. I miss ‘eating siku kuu’ with mum, dad and my brothers. It is nostalgic. It kind of feels strange being away from them on December 25. This was always the one day we all looked forward to every year. In retrospect, I think it was mainly because on Christmas, we were sure of eating something different. This was one of the few days of the year when we could be treated to something else apart from the usual ugali and sukuma wiki and the occasional githeri.
First and foremost, Christmas was associated with chapatis. Those days, chapos were sacred and Christmas was never complete without them. Nowadays there is a guy making chapos at every street corner but they are still a must have item on the Christmas menu in most homes. Home-made chapos always taste better than those street chapos. In our house, they were only cooked during special events or public holidays. Every Christmas eve, my dad would come home to our delight with a shopping bag usually packed with wheat flour, cooking fat, dilute-to-taste orange juice, rice, sugar and baking powder. Sometimes we would slaughter a chicken. That modest meal was always our biggest and most anticipated feast of the year. We lived for that.
Dad would make a lot of mandazi in the morning which we really enjoyed eating with tea for breakfast. Then we would take a bath and wear our Sunday best clothes. Sometimes we put on ‘new’ clothes specifically bought for Christmas. Most kids would wear new clothes on Christmas. We would then go to church or just hang around waiting for lunch which was usually the main Christmas meal.
Mum normally cooked the rice and a stew of potatoes with a hint of meat or peas. Chapatis usually took too long to cook, so normally we would be given a piece each to whet our appetite as we waited. When we finally sat around the table to eat, I would eat two chapatis when I was younger and then gradually upgraded to two and a half and eventually three as I grew older. We would then wash down the lunch with orange juice or soda in some rare occasions, before going out to enjoy the rest of the day.
A few days to Christmas, we used to decorate the house with balloons, papers cuttings and a makeshift Christmas tree. This’ tree’ was a small branch of cypress that we cut from a neighbour’s hedge or farm. We would put it in a tin filled with soil and covered with a cloth. We then decorated it with coloured paper, balloons and sometimes plums to give the impression of lights. Then we would then throw away everything a couple of days after Christmas. That was it. Nothing was ever said about Santa Claus. I only remember seeing pictures of ‘Father Christmas’ –as we called him- everywhere.
But the ones I enjoyed most were those days when we would travel upcountry to spend Christmas with our relatives. These Christmases were bigger and merrier. Food and drinks were in plenty. It was always exciting meeting long lost cousins, aunts and uncles. It was bonding time for us because we hardly met for years. It was always fun interacting with cousins of our age.
For some people, Christmas is never complete without indulging in alcohol. This is a day when they drink themselves silly as they celebrate the siku kuu. The first time I drank alcohol was actually on Christmas day. After lunch, I was given some muratina by my uncle but I ended up puking it all out together with the heavy lunch. I swore never to drink that thing again.
Christmas was a day of eating, drinking, decorations, merry making, having fun, travelling, meeting family and friends, going to church and wearing new clothes. I grew up and part of the excitement fizzled out maybe since I can now eat chapo any day I want. I don’t know what it feels like these days or what makes it tick, but what I know is that family makes it special.
Merry Christmas folks. Enjoy yours.