Ugandan Christmas – What is it like? You might be in Uganda for work, for vacation, in transit … and suddenly Christmas is here!
… And what better place to be, to celebrate Christmas in Uganda? Welcome to the land of feasting and merry making . Ugandan Christmas is filled with love and sharing with family and friends – I guess as it is the world over … but this in many ways is with our own Christmas traditions and style.
Feasting mighty be universal – but we are not talking ‘preparing turkeys’ here, it’s everything. Yes!, everything!
But first; the mood that comes with it. It’s about the birth of JESUS CHRIST – The saviour of mankind! Don’t forget that Ugandans are very God fearing people. Christmas is not simply about the feasting … but they draw the meaning of Christ’s birth and religiously have a special attachment and understanding of the day.
That said, I have been to countries in Europe were the mood turns Christmassy – If you like, as early as late October – Now, that might not be the case here … but the world is fast catching up with us. I have also been around the streets of Kampala in November and there is a feeling of ‘Christmas-is-round-the-corner‘.
Fast forward into December and it’s Christmas season in Uganda. You start to see the Christmas trees, the lighting and decorations and you hear Christmas tunes playing on FM stations and everywhere (some you can quickly pick out like ‘jingle bells’). What is interesting, you see shopping malls filled with all kinds of merchandise – majority of which is made in China of course, at discounted prices.
And what about this Santa Claus guy? Sure, he has finally found his way into Uganda (put it to the last 10/15 years). It’s not a proper in house thing yet – perhaps in the cities and towns. A few can now relate to the Santa mystery – more with the elite, the educated and town dwellers.
Not many can and will afford a gift for each family member for Christmas and still have enough left for the big feast. The size of our families will certainly not allow; they are much extended with such extensions that will include relations and friends at times. But if you are lucky to receive a Christmas gift, it will perhaps be the attachment and thought that that person has for you that matters, with Santa out of mind.
You will love the bargains though – I certainly do. The beauty is that you will surely find something for the kids; the toys, the sweets, the little pretty shoes and lovely dresses … The shops will invitingly welcome you to find a gift – if only the Chinese would make the collection a little more durable to last beyond boxing day!
A week before the 25th, Christmas in Uganda is in ‘full-swing’ as the Ugandans will say. Majority are running around like headless chickens trying to do that last minute shopping – further discounts and offers make it even worse, there is just a lot to pick up for a few shillings.
That reminds me of Public Holidays in Uganda – lest I forget to mention. And I will make particular reference to the Christmas period (You are looking at say 20th Dec, all the way through new-years day, to a week after). If you have got work related deadlines to beat, best is to avoid this period. Sections of society here go into sleep mode and I will tell you why shortly …
Like I said, Christmas in Uganda is about feasting and sharing with family. A lot of people will prefer to travel to their ancestral homes to join the rest of the ‘extended’ family (which family they will have possibly not seen in a very long time). ‘I am travelling up-country for Christmas‘, they will say.
This requires some preparation and the travelling could be a few hundred miles away. The transport fares tend to go up towards Christmas and with all the shopping and luggage to take with them, one would rather travel as early as 20th Dec than leave it late.
You will therefore get to some public offices and find little or no service at all because ‘the man with the key has gone for Christmas‘ – which can be frustrating!
On with Christmas, once everybody has arrived and settled in, celebrations will start as early as 23rd Dec. In rural Uganda, the 23rd and 24th will be the butcher days. There will be a lot of beef and in some places – pork, lots of chicken and other animals slaughtered for the celebrations as the ladies of the house get on with the preparation of the big meal.
It’s interesting to see how much time the women put in – it takes them quite a few days to put together their recipes. Trust me, the end result is well worth it! Christmas is the time to taste Mama’s food if you’ve not in a long time!
Most of the feasting kicks off on the 24th of December – perhaps with a bit on the hand-brake, saving the best for the D-day. The ladies are in the back ground putting the final touches to their well-thought-through recipes. There is a relaxed-mood feeling in the air.
Kampala will be close to empty; no traffic, with a few people walking around (possibly the custodians of the city).
Come the 25th of December – Christmas day, first things first; Majority of Ugandan families will attend church in the morning (which is usually a long church service that will test one’s patience) … and then soon after, ‘hell breaks loose‘! The waiting is over – It’s such a great atmosphere to be part of; the big meal that has been prepared with precision strikes your palate with approval.
Lots to drink, dancing, catching up with family, lots of stories to tell, laughter and eating again and again and … going on through to the 26th December – Boxing day.
Quite often, there will be a slight break and then the celebrations will resume on the 31st of December to see off the year and usher in the new one on 1st Of January.
… A few days to a week later, the town dwellers will start to return to their stations reflecting on a well spent Christmas holiday.
If you are lucky to visit Uganda over the Christmas holiday, join in and share the fun. And if you are invited by a Ugandan family, gladly accept the invite and experience a memorable Christmas in Uganda that will live with you forever.
You will love it!