I’ve written this post in a rush since tomorrow is Christmas, dedicated to my American friend over at Bishop and Warlord: it’s been quite a year reading your impressive posts and finding your comments in mine. Here’s to what’s coming in 2014!
Well, a Kenyan Christmas is both unlike what we see in Hollywood movies – no snow except at the peak of Mt. Kenya – and like what we see in Hollywood movies – celebrating with family.
So this is how Kenyans typically celebrate Christmas:
Décor: It’s not a big affair to get a Christmas tree for the house and decorate it with all kinds of Christmas bling. But when you do buy a tree, chances are it’s fake and made of plastic.
Shops and malls do decorate their premises, simply by painting “Merry Christmas and New Year” on the window, putting up a banner or decking up the place extravagantly with lights and fully decorated trees.
Malls, especially, take extra effort in creating a Christmas wonderland. Personally, I think it’s for the benefit of expats and foreigners because locals don’t really put much stock into Christmas trees, balls or lights. Awfully pretty to look at in nighttime, though…
Gifts: Gifts can be exchanged, but it’s not a staunch tradition here. You won’t find us running in and out of stores in search of the latest gadget for our kids or stressing about money you don’t have that you need to spend while referring to your child’s wish list.
However, to be more technical about it, gifts come in the form of clothes, especially for children – “nguo za Krisimasi” [clothes for Christmas].
Each year, you know you’ll have a brand new Christmas dress or a brand new pair of jeans courtesy of Mum and Dad. They take you to the shop with them or they pick up the purchase and come home with it.
You could go the extra mile for those you hold dear to you and buy them gifts individually.
Unlike Christmas greeting cards, sending wishes via SMS is popular.
Church: With Kenya being a predominantly Christian nation (83%), many people attend Christmas services around the country. The churches are usually decorated with balloons, crêpe paper and banners.
Family: One of the biggest Christmas ‘traditions’ in Kenya is traveling upcountry/ancestral home to be with family, especially for those living in the cities.
Men living and working in cities who have left their wives and children in the village farms, city dwellers with parents who are in the village, youngsters who want to visit their grandparents…they go home during this time.
It’s a family reunion of sorts when everyone gathers at Grandmother’s for the festivities, including those who live in the diaspora.
The tricky part about going back to the village is that relatives expect you city mice to bring them gifts. They think you’re living it up back there and expect you to show them kindness. It can be brutal.
Holiday: Some don’t find the necessity to go to the village, so they take holidays to the beach or enjoy a safari. It’s often warm in Kenya this time of year, and a beach holiday can be the ultimate Christmas celebration!
Food: Nyama choma is a must-have for a Christmas meal.
Another ‘tradition’ of a Kenyan Christmas is the slaughtering of a goat, chicken or cow, and then roasting it over a charcoal or wood fire. We’ll take the goat or chicken to the back and slaughter it ourselves over buying meat from the supermarket or butchery. And you don’t need a permit like I’m told you do abroad!
Other than the meat the goat provides, you can boil the head or bones for soup, make the “Kenyan sausage” out of the intestines (mutura) or cook the intestines as they are for another stew: matumbo. Yum!
Traditional food served will also depend on the community you’re from, but one of the national favourites is chapati, a flat bread that can be eaten with stew, plain as it is or with a cup of tea.
Clubbing: After sharing the day with family, some people like to end Christmas Day with a punch by spending the night clubbing and dancing.
Wherever you are, happy, happy Christmas from this girl in Kenya!