MR SURVIVOR: Reminiscing about when Christmas was Christmas

Christmas dinner

Christmas dinner.

Photo credit: Fotosearch

Back in the day, Christmas was Christmas. Perhaps not everyone had the same experience of Christmas but Kenyans who have been ruled by four or five presidents might remember how Christmas was always a day to cherish and remember.

Cherished memories of past Christmas days are still deeply etched in my hippocampus, the long term memory, of my brain.

Sadly, in this era, Christmas has been commercialised and reduced to a fashion show.

Back then, Christmas was not a one-day event, but it was defined by a chain of activities in the whole month of December—the preparation stage, the eve of Christmas and the Christmas Day. In simple terms, the stages represented shopping, cooking and eating.

My mother, a disciplinarian by default, was solely in charge and supervised the entire process with military precision. To date, mother is still in charge of Christmas and we are all the better with her chaperonage.

One of the most automatic activities in the preparation stage was giving our home a facelift. Back then, most of our houses in the village were mud-walled with grass-thatched roofing. The facelift involved patching up gaping holes in the walls and then plastering the entire wall with whitish clay soil; an activity set aside for us boys, while married women would ensure the roof of her house gets a fresh layer thatch. At the end of the facelift, the house would look as good as new.

“Christmas is eaten in a new house. One cannot receive the son of God in an old house,” mother would intone. At Happy Valley, the air was palpable as everyone prepared their house to receive the newborn; the Son of Man.

This stage also involved shopping. And it was at this stage that mother would secretly buy rare niceties to be cooked on the big day. These included rice, wheat flour and cowboy cooking fat. And because poverty is the mother of invention, mother would buy a whole ‘debe’ of wheat and mill it to number ten wheat floor. “This is the best because it ‘catches’ the stomach. More so, the doctor says it is good for health,” mother would declare. Yes, for those born after the first president, rice and chapatti, or chapo as it is commonly referred to in informal settings, were rare delicacies mainly eaten on special occasions like Christmas. And to crown the banquet would be a cock that mother had fattened for the special day.

Mother would also secretly buy each of us new clothing and a pair of shoes for Christmas. These would be unveiled on Christmas Day. The ‘new’ clothes, however, would most often than not have been bought from the ‘sunshine boutique’ famously and hilariously referred to as marehemu George. As I had said earlier, poverty is the mother of invention.

The second stage was the preparatory cooking on the eve of Christmas. All of us would be around the hearth in the kitchen as mother cooked chapos and gave us children one each one as an appetiser. We would help in preparing peas for stew as we awaited the birth of Jesus at midnight. At midnight, the whole of Happy Valley would burst into ululations and singing Christmas songs. Then we would soon join KBC radio to sleep.

The climax of the celebration was Christmas Day. We would try out marehemu George’s Christmas clothes and as you can rightly guess, most were ill fitting, making us look more comical than Father Christmas. Then followed the journey to church, the one day most of us saw the door of the church. Of course the purpose was to show off our Christmas clothes.

After the Christmas show-off, came the climax of the day—eating. The idea was to eat until there was no room for more. After all, the next eating time would be the following Christmas. “Look at my stomach. I look like a mdosi,” I would say. “No, you look like an expectant woman,” said my brother. “When you get full, cover your stomach,” mother would warn. And soon after, all hell broke loose.

The combination of the rare chapos, rice, chicken and a stew made from potatoes, peas and cabbages, all eaten in huge quantities, usually resulted in a third world war in the stomach.

And every times some said, “My stomach is aching”, mother would be duly prepared. “Take this salty water. That is what happens when you eat like there is no tomorrow,” she would respond.

And that, my friends, was Christmas back in the day, preparation, cooking, eating and medication. Although things have greatly changed, mother is still in charge, superintending over all my sisters and our wives; and yes, my tough Queen too.

Whatever your memories, and whatever Christmas is to you today, I take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a very prosperous coming 2023 new year. Enjoy the season to the fullest.

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