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What Is An African Christmas Anyway?

Written By: Brigette Mashile

What are you doing for Christmas?” A question that starts coming about around week 2 of December. Or, “where are you going for Christmas?” We simply ask these questions with the same ease of ‘How are you?”. We mean to say we care, but we ask it as a conversation starter, or conversation keeper or just because it is kind to ask. Honestly, DON’T ASK ME. Lol! I honestly have no answers for you at all, not even by the 24th of December will I have a response to these kinds of questions. Why? Well, for me, Christmas has changed. A lot. And that’s because my life has also changed.

Let’s discuss these changes:

New clothes

I used to get new clothes every Christmas until I was maybe 14. I have no idea why we were given new clothes on Christmas day. It was an expectation we were taught to have and traumatized into forgetting one year! Did I like the clothes? NO. They were never my choice of style. They were mostly 2 piece numbers only appropriate for high tea with the Queen. Socks and all. I kid you not,But it’s now been over 22 years since I received new clothes for Christmas. Yes I’m complaining, I wish I still got them from my parents!

 

Religion

I didn’t specifically grow up Christian…but we celebrated Christmas! How? I don’t know. We definitely attended Sunday school and church, we owned bibles, and prayed as per Christians do. But it was not strict, it was not the ‘only way’. There was always room for questions and spaces to ponder other options.

Today is no different, except I have some answers. Today, Christmas is really a choice and I can tailor it as I wish. The religion question leads to what is an African Christmas? Is it even possible? Or better yet what is a South African Christmas? Should we be Christmasing? If yes, how do we make it more ‘us’?

Food

Remember when ‘Sunday kos’ was a serious thing? I mean serious serious! My mother even baked a cake on Sundays. ‘Sunday kos’ the act of cooking a feast on Sundays for your family. In my mother’s house, our plates typically had rice, pap, 2 pieces of meat, and 4 different kinds of salads. Then there was custard and jelly for dessert and finally, the longest nap in life.

Life changed however and we had to go to boarding school on Sundays. This meant less time for cooking and eating. Sunday became a separation day from our home.

Thereafter, I went on to live alone in my tertiary schooling days… I still tried to cook but I was alone. Eventually ‘Sunday kos’ disappeared. All those ‘Sunday kosses’ lead up to Christmas cooking. We always knew that’s the day there would be 8 different types of salads on the plate. We had been practising on all those Sundays. Today, we can have a simple braai and be satisfied with it. We don’t really cook that much anymore on Sunday or Christmas day.

Location 

When I was a child my parents and the bulk of their siblings lived within 50km of one another. They had easier access to each other and could meet up as they wished. That was a great thing as it meant that we could spend Christmas with family every year. A blessing and a challenge in and of itself. Lol.

Today I live over 500 km away from my parents! Most of us left our homes and headed towards the cities for education, careers and to generally gain more “access” to life. Traveling to my parents’ home costs more than the Christmas tree! This is the case for many of us. We all can’t simply ‘go’ somewhere for Christmas. Most of us end up going to our birth towns and hope our cousins and friends do the same so we can all meet.

 

American Christmas

Ugh, no one does Christmas like the Americans. I am sure they have their reasons and it means more to them, that’s great. I just need us to find our way. Throughout my childhood I would wonder why we didn’t have Christmas trees, or at least have copies of theirs! I wondered why my village didn’t decorate their homes and streets just like the movies on ETV? Why were we not doing Christmas the way the American’s do? Where do we buy turkey guys? And what is eggnog?! Lastly and sadly, where is the snow (insert cry emoji!). TV made Christmas real but not possible to me.

TV made Christmas real but not possible to me.

The older I got, the more I realised it is an idea that I can take part in, but I must find my way. Today I still want the Christmas tree but definitely not the snow LOL!

What will I be doing for Christmas? I don’t know. I’ll probably be driving to my mother’s to rest. My business will have kept me so busy as I’ll only stop working on the 23rd of December. All I will be yearning for is sleeping for long and doing absolutely nothing. I plan on seeing my grandmother. I might see my cousins, I might cook, I might dance. I have basically left Christmas open for whatever it wants to mould itself into.

May you end up doing whatever you feel like doing on the 25th of December, and being with whomever you want to be with on that day. You are free to do whatever you want to do on that day, the world is changing, and we need to adapt. We are building new traditions, ways and customs. We may keep the message of Christmas but deliver it in another beautiful way. The message of love, togetherness and sharing.

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