What you need to know:
- At Christmas time, there is no script for what your tradition should look like, who you should share it with or how it should grow over time as long as you spread the love
- Three women share on their most treasured Christmas family traditions
Before smartphones and digital cameras became accessible to all and sundry, my entire village depended on one man for Christmas photos.
He owned a Kodak film camera and on his bicycle, he'd traverse homesteads and sometimes to other villages capturing moments.
When he was almost getting to his client's home, he would make his presence known by ringing the bicycle's bell. This also meant that you had to put on hold whatever you were doing and get ready for the snaps. He was a man on a mission and he was particularly impatient.
Year after year, we took photos on Christmas Day, a tradition whose motive was to strengthen our bond. Sadly, none of these childhood photos have survived the test of time as some didn't see the light of day due to the frame burn while others were used to light a fire.
Today, with the routine the menu has changed in many households and across the country, stories are told of Christmas memories and traditions from decades past.
'When are you coming home for Christmas?' If you are yet to travel, you might have been asked this question dozens of times. When the night travel ban was lifted on October 20, many people thronged to online booking sites to book their tickets home. For matatu operators, this is their lucky season as most have hiked fares to various destinations.
Big family meet-up
Eunice Miaraho, 32, is an environmentalist and a mother to one daughter
"I have to be home for Christmas," Eunice Miaraho, 32, an environmentalist and a mother to one daughter shares.
"I come from a family of nine and I have seven siblings. Christmastime in my parents' house is always one of anticipation. I have a vivid memory of what Christmas was like growing up— it meant new clothes and eating meals like Chapati to no end. Then, barely halfway into the year, we would be reminding one another of things we are to do when we meet on a day like today," Eunice shares.
"There's a big age difference between me and some of my siblings so by the time I was hitting teenage, they had moved out. I yearned for their arrival because they would always show up with goodies. Now as an adult, I look forward to this day because it is the only time of the year that all of us can. We have this tradition where all of us have to be together over Christmas. My parents have encouraged us to try and have one day that we can be together. All of us show up unless there are unavoidable circumstances. Like last year, some could not make it because of the pandemic restrictions.
Originally, we would visit my brothers' or sisters' homes in a merry-go-round sort of arrangement but it became complicated because of the big number that we are. So we agreed that our parents' house would be most suitable. When we meet, it's beautiful chaos with six siblings, in-laws, nieces, and nephews. We get to check on one another, share our dreams and goals for the coming year and our achievements. And as we do this, mbuzi choma will be on the grill. One of the reasons why we all make efforts to be home is the constant reminder by our parents that family is the most important thing.
For this year, we have already celebrated as a family because some of my siblings are unable to travel home. To make up for their absence, we met over the Jamhuri and shared a night of laughter and prayers. We only forgot to do one thing—take a photo."
A piece of fruit cake, anyone?
Grace Kanya, Counselling Psychologist and a mother of two
When we reached out to Grace Kanya for this interview, she was baking and had just received two fruit pieces of fruit cake. The fruits in the cake the family is feasting on today were pre-soaked in June in readiness for Christmas day.
"It is our tradition," she says.
Grace is a counseling psychologist and a mother of two. "The favourite thing about today is sharing good times with friends and members of my family.
Since my childhood days, Christmas has been an avenue to share and show love. I have two brothers and one sister and we grew up writing letters and sending cards to one another. Now that we have children and in-laws, our celebrations and gifting have gone a notch higher," she offers.
According to a 2015 gifting report by Unity Marketing, Christmas is the most important day for gifters followed by Mother's Day and Valentine's day.
"We are big on gifts. There are already some under the Christmas tree awaiting opening on a special day. I would say that our family tradition stands on little things yet very important to us —cooking, baking, and gifting.
On Christmas Day, we get to sit and sample each other's new recipes. It is so much fun because everyone is involved including my 84-year-old father. He prepares the tastiest meat.
Over the years, I have mastered the secret to a good rich Christmas fruit cake. You need to soak it for a long time so the fruit infuses the rum(alcoholic) or orange juice (non-alcoholic). I always presoak my fruits in June for Christmas then bake as early as October.
My family treasures homemade cakes. My grandmother made them, my mum followed suit and now my teenage daughter can comfortably bake delicious cakes. Since way back, I remember that cake was a staple in our household during any celebration.
We incorporate food and baking into our celebrations because the secret ingredient we use is love. When you are baking or cooking something special for the family, it's the love that makes it come out nicely.
At the moment, my family is scattered in different parts of the world. The plan is to share the cake that one has baked and wish one another good tidings online. It's always exciting to see each person's Christmas table with a cake. Since I am in the country, I will spend Christmas day with my parents and make our signature pilau and chicken stew. I will also make cakes and cupcakes to share with the less privileged on Utamaduni day.
Gifting other people
Brightstar Kasyoka, 22, a fashion entrepreneur and a cat lover
While some people will be sharing this day with their loved ones, others choose to spend time and resources on the less fortunate.
"Biologically, I am an only child, but I have been privileged to stay with different families that took me in as their child," says Brightstar Kasyoka, 22, a fashion entrepreneur.
Growing up, I was not that enthusiastic about Christmas day because my grandparents, who are my guardians, couldn't afford to buy me new clothes or shoes. I would go to church and almost every other child had something new. Christmas was the only time I would wonder if my life would have been better if I had been brought up under the care of both my parents.
In church, we would get gifts like sweets, biscuits and it made me very happy. I would also participate in reciting verses in church and one memorable Christmas was when a church member gave me Sh200 and told me to go buy something for Christmas.
Even though I rarely got a present, my grandmother made a special meal almost every Christmas day. She would allow me to invite other children and I learnt a valuable lesson to always share with others even when we don't have enough. One neighbour always ensured to send his kids to bring me a piece of chicken every Christmas so even on years my grandparents couldn't afford a special meal, I had something special to eat.
My birthday is around the same time, it comes three days after Christmas and honestly, it reminds me of the lonely days I had in my childhood.
When I started living with other families, my perspective on Christmas changed because they all had different traditions which mostly included spending the day together or traveling. Sometimes, I felt out of place and chose to spend the day in my room, alone.
It is for this reason that I decided to make Christmas special for people who feel like me. Every Christmas I pick a certain number of people and buy them shopping and gift them money. The people vary from the elderly to children and other people like street families who are often overlooked by society. By giving to them and making their day memorable, it makes me feel better knowing their families will not feel out of place on Christmas day.
Last year was one of my best Christmas days. I spent it with my friends and my grandparents also visited so I didn't feel alone. This year, unfortunately, I have to spend it by myself because I will be working and I have a very small circle of friends. This is somehow a trigger and I am already feeling bad about it. However, what makes me happy is that I have already sent money to a couple of families to enjoy Christmas together, and it gives me much joy to know I am helping others to celebrate this big day.
Before Covid-19 I would spend most of my Christmas visiting children's homes but right now I prefer to support those in need virtually because I wouldn't want to risk their lives.
I look forward to having a family of my own with whom I can spend time together on such a day. I admire families that spend time together on Christmas day —they have something that they should never take for granted.
One thing I have learnt about Christmas is that it is not just time to celebrate but time to remember that not everyone is privileged to mark the important day and that touching other people's lives is very important. As a child, I benefited a lot from clothes that were donated on Christmas day, and now I am in the fashion industry so I cannot wait to start gifting people free clothes during this time of the year.
For the last two years, I have been busy setting up my business but come next year, I hope to travel more with my grandparents over the holidays to spend time together as a family. My grandparents have sacrificed a lot to provide for me and they have never had a holiday or even a proper celebration."
While many individuals are trying to keep Christmas traditions alive, some quarters feel that the joy and the thrill that comes with this season is fading.
"I don't know…. Is it just me who no longer feels magical about Christmas day?" a friend recently asked.
If you are feeling the same, you are not alone. According to Isaac Maweu, a counseling psychologist, some of the reasons why you may be missing on the magic could be the cost associated with it and age.
"With prices of most items having sky-rocketed, the stress of finding a reasonably priced gift for our loved ones can make us lose interest about the day. Most quarters, especially parents feel obligated to buy presents for their children. Also, there is the issue of age. As we grow up, our perspectives change and it is not uncommon to lose the imaginative aspect of the holiday season. However, whether you feel the magic of Christmas or not, it is important to remember that Christmas is so much more than making merry. Christmas is the time of year to reflect on what you've done and to feel gratitude for everything you've been given," he shares.