night before christmas

Growing up, Christmas was all children looked forward to. It meant something. And the night before Christmas was a celebration that lived with us. A celebration that imprinted good memories in us. We associate it with nostalgia.

I grew up in a catholic household. This meant that we had two celebrations. One celebration signifies the birth of Christ. I’m not sure what the second reason is, but I’m pretty sure it justified slaughtering a goat and chicken. It was then accompanied by eating chapati. Chapati was a big deal because we only had the meal occasionally within the year. We even enjoyed the luxury of wearing new clothes while sharing these occasional meals. But that’s not the best part.

All relatives travelled upcountry and spent a few days with the extended family. During this time, I met all my uncles, aunties, and cousins irrespective of their status in society. The rich and the poor hung out together during these days sharing all resources available upcountry. I would stay close to my rich cousin because he always had fancy toys. Their rich parents would tell us to study hard at school to afford these things. After bragging about how they would always top their class, our parents would recoil in the corner of the room while our rich relatives talked about how smart they were. Now that I’m a parent, I understand that we must encourage our kids to work hard at school. I understand why all parents tell their kids that they were at the top of their class.

Each night before Christmas our parents would give us a few coins and we would run off to the nearest shops to buy balloons. The process of buying these balloons was a tricky one since it depended on one’s luck. The shopkeeper would provide us with a set of numbers to choose from. The number one selected determined the balloon (whether big or small) he or she was given. Yet the largest balloon would remain on the display for the longest time, probably to make sure we continued playing. We would always ask one of our cousins to select the number on our behalf because she had a ‘better hand’. Sometimes she would become cocky and demand a bribe. After such a stunt she would always lose. To some extent, I think that this is how serial gamblers in society came to be.

Our grandparents would select a goat and feed it for the better part of the year in preparation for Christmas. Each time we visited they would make reference to the goat meant for slaughter on the night before Christmas in preparation for the big day. There was a reassuring feeling that always made us look forward to Christmas.

The best part was how we spent the night before Christmas. After all the festivities, children retired to our grandparents sitting room which was a large room with several couches. At this time, our grandmother has already prepared the room to accommodate a dozen or so children. She would emerge from one of the tiny rooms and share several blankets which we gladly accepted. Our grandmother would then head off to her room where she began telling stories or riddles depending on what we requested. We would gradually fall asleep and wake up early the following morning after a good night’s sleep despite there being a dozen or so kids sharing blankets. The good old days huh!!

This was the culture of Christmas. But it’s no longer a culture especially with our generation as parents. It’s sad that I don’t know if we can maintain such a rich culture for our children. Probably this is not the case for you but I have a feeling most of us can relate. Something depressing happened. A wake-up call to the demise of a rich Christmas culture. Walk with me.

 It’s Christmas already and I also had to travel upcountry as everyone does during the festive season. A few days later came Christmas eve or rather the popular night before Christmas eve. Normally, I expected that we would slaughter the sacrificial goat as we have always done. But it is apparent that there’s no goat to slaughter. In fact, they have switched from rearing the traditional breaks of goats. Now, there are modern breeds reared for milk only. The kind of goats reared under zero-grazing. These goats aren’t allowed to graze in the bush. They return home in the evening if they feel like it. In the cities, we have slay queens but it’s worse upcountry. They have slay goats that can’t fend for themselves. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

By eight o’clock, supper was ready and served to comprise rice, minced beef stew and salad. This is a typical delicacy in the city but not what I expected upcountry the night before Christmas. Each time I travel upcountry, I try to stay away from my phone and laptop as much as possible in a bid to reconnect with both the environment and people. I try to start a conversation around the table but everyone is on their phone. Nobody seems to be paying attention to the television mounted on the wall ahead of us. Instead, they are hooked to their phones.

My youngest brother is playing assassins creed or whatever game teenagers are playing these days. On the couch next to him is my son. He fell asleep a few minutes past seven o’clock probably from fatigue or boredom. Across from him, my wife and I sit in silence. This is understandable because she can’t talk too much especially in the company of her in-law. But she is also concentrating on her phone. I’m not sure what story she’s reading but she’s a loyal must-tea-r at Edgar Obare’s page.

Next to me is my dad and he’s scrolling through WhatsApp stories giggling at funny memes. the only time anyone reacts is when I sneeze. Everybody looked at me each shouting “Omicron” which is currently being associated with city dwellers for whatever reason. We soon regain a sober mood as each of us goes back to our phones. He attempts to read one meme out loud but we all know what happens when you try to read a meme out loud. I give up trying to find out why nobody is talking to each other. I also give up trying to start a conversation with anyone and everyone in the room. Minding my own business, I hold the plate in my hand and continue eating then later wash it down with a cup of milk. The typical upcountry meal.

A few minutes later I announce my leave. I head back to my house at the far end of the compound in the company of my wife and son. They head straight to bed while I remain in the sitting room digging deep into my laptop bag to compose this story. I remember the kind of Christmas we had a few years before I left for campus. A few years later and there’s a void that I’m sure will never be filled. I haven’t seen most of the cousins we shared blankets with a few years ago. We gradually grew distant, now we don’t even talk.

But I looked at the souls in the sitting room and they were content. We were all happy in whatever it is we were doing as we took supper. Somehow, none of us seemed to be in Christmas spirit but they were content. Not the kind of contentment we used to have but a new version where they all mind their own business. I would have loved it if my son (he’s a few months short of two years) enjoyed the kind of Christmas culture we had.  I don’t believe in impossibilities but it’s probably impossible to recreate the ideal night before Christmas like it’s supposed to be. So, I’ll head over to the bedroom and add this to my new year resolutions and carry it over to next Christmas.

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