Christmas: ‘Tis the season of sharing and nostalgic returns

Christmas gifts

Elderly women carry Christmas gifts they received from well-wishers at the PCEA Church grounds in Elburgon, Nakuru County on December 23, 2021. This Christmas season be generous towards those who are less fortunate. 

Photo credit: John Njoroge | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Christmas means different things to different people, but no matter the case, there is something magical about it.
  • The season is also often accompanied by physical return to our native places of birth - for most of us, rural areas.

“My cousin sat by the bedside, a handkerchief in her hands battling with the eyes struggling to take that last look at the world... She looked at me, tears begging me to play Jesus on Lazarus! I looked at her aunt, my mother, then back at her... It wasn't until I went to the back of the house and was frozen in mid-step at the sudden sight of an ugly casket resting against the wall that part of it dawned on me... 

“The memories still follow me. It was several cold Decembers ago. But it's still fresh, conserved by the Harmattan. Every year, as the winds descend from the Sahara, on its back is that past frozen like a fossil in amber. Christmas songs are like dirges ever since and the red of Christmas, the colours of pain...” once wrote Nigerian writer Uwuma Precious, remembering a Christmas of pain.

The Christmas season is with us again, and the red and white Christmas colours could conjure up painful or pleasant memories. 

Christmas means different things to different people, but no matter the case, there is something magical about it. The bells,  the carols... It comes with some level of common romanticisation of childhood for us who are older; in which our childhood memories, homes and bedtime stories are revived. Memories swell and surge, often with a sense of nostalgia for good times long gone, perhaps even loved ones long gone. 

The season is also often accompanied by physical return to our native places of birth (for most of us, rural areas). But it is also accompanied by nostalgia – a difficult return of a different kind.

Nick Taylor-Collins, a lecturer at Swansea University writes aptly: “Nostalgia has a complex etymology. The first part stems from nostos, meaning ‘homecoming’ in ancient Greek, which was a heroic quality desired by Ulysses in The Odyssey. That epic poem charted Ulysses’ return to Ithaca after the Trojan War.

Sumptuous meals

But the second half of the word, algia, means ‘pain’. The word as a whole implies the ‘painful homecoming’ – the difficult journey – the return home that’s not without trouble.”

For some people, Christmas is indeed painful either because of memories of sad events or because they can’t even find food to eat, let alone the sumptuous meals everyone is posting on Facebook, Tiktok and Instagram. 

This reminds one of The Chimes, a Charles Dickens 1844 novella that concerns the disillusionment of Toby “Trotty” Veck, a poor working-class man (maybe “hustler” in present-day language). 

Like many people in Kenya, Trotty (given the moniker due to the strange way he walks) is a hard-working, honest but poor man. But hard work and honesty doesn’t guarantee material success as many have unfortunately learnt. 

Trotty is obsessed with the bells that chime in a church tower close by. When he hears them chime, it’s like they have magical messages for him. It is as if the bells are calling him. The sad thing is that Trotty has lost faith in humanity. People are no longer kind to the poor, so he finds no consolation among family or friend. But the bells continue ringing. 

Spreading the cheer

It calls to the mind one of the old Christmas song that goes:

“I heard the bells on Christmas day/Their old familiar carols play/And mild and sweet their songs repeat/Of peace on Earth, good will to men... And in despair I bowed my head/There is no peace on Earth I said/For hate is strong and mocks the song/Of peace on Earth, good will to men/But the bells are ringing (peace on Earth)/Like a choir singing (peace on Earth)/Does anybody hear them? (Peace on Earth)/ Peace on Earth, good will to men”.

Like in this song, Trotty is in pain, but the bells keep ringing, until he finds his consolation in the bells (chimes) and the spirits that visit him. The spirits restore faith to the discouraged old messenger as they show him that nobody is born evil, but rather that crime and poverty are things created by man. What a sad state of affairs!

As we celebrate Christmas and the New Year, let’s remember to be generous to others who are less fortunate. We should share not only the cheer, but also our material stuff with others so that we brighten their days. Let’s not leave them like Trotty to find cheer only in Christmas bells and carols. 

The “plight of the poor” has become a cliché but it still means “the needs of the people that are vulnerable and unable to meet their socio-economic needs independently or to support themselves and their dependants and are in need of social assistance”. In a world that believes people are “self-made” and that everyone should take care of themselves, it can be hard to concentrate and help others who are less fortunate. 

However, in whatever station in life, we can always find ways of spreading the cheer. May we do that this holiday season. We should also read a few good books to relax and recharge for the coming year.