As far back as I can remember, my family in Kenya never celebrated Christmas the same way twice. The only consistent thing was that we would try to see extended family. This was partly because the country virtually ground to a halt in the period leading up to Christmas and stretching into the New Year, making it easier for family members from all corners of the country to convene in one location.
My family didn’t put up a Christmas tree or exchange gifts, but all around us the air was filled with Christmas songs, mostly sung by the Jamaican disco group Boney M. The group seemed to be the Christmas favorite when I was growing up. A friend here in the U.S. recently acquired some of their songs and was excited to walk down memory lane as he played them for me.
Christmas day itself was a simple affair in our family. We often attended a church service in the morning and then came home to a scrumptious meal of chapati, greens, and various meat dishes: beef, chicken, goat. I’m sure there was more, but these were my favorite dishes. My mom loves to cook and we love to eat. It was a thoroughly good partnership, except for having to do the dishes afterwards.
In the years that I’ve been away from Kenya, I have continued the tradition of celebrating Christmas a different way each year. It’s been fun to celebrate Christmas with friends from other parts of the world.
When I lived in Germany, I realized that their celebration begins on Christmas Eve. Most churches had late night or midnight services on this night, rather than on Christmas Day. Many of my friends celebrated Advent–the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. Christmas trees were ubiquitous, and the exchange of gifts was the big event on Christmas Day. The U.S. is not much different, except that there seems to be less emphasis on celebrating Christmas Eve and a bigger to-do about the exchange of gifts.
Last year I had a white Christmas when it snowed in Washington, DC; I was visiting friends. This year I will probably have a warm and sunny one in temperamental Texas. Whatever the weather, it’s always a fun and festive celebration of life. Having lived in so many different places, I carry pieces of each of these places with me. Sometimes I miss being with family in Kenya, or visiting the Weihnachtsmarkt and drinking Glühwein in Germany, but I don’t dwell too much on these things. There are far too many reasons to be joyful, even when I am not home for the holidays.