Before you get too excited – this post probably won’t give you too much insight into Rwandan Christmas! 😉 Mostly because I’m not spending it in the country this year, and also because, well, I didn’t feel particularly Christmassy until I got to Europe as there isn’t much of the so-called Christmas spirit in Kigali… Not that it’s a bad thing though! Read on to find out why 🙂
I’m sitting in the remote north-west corner of Ireland right now, where the weather changes literally every minute (it was sunny 5 minutes ago and right now it’s blowing a gale and there are heavy grey clouds flying across the sky and rain is falling horizontally). But even though there’s no snow, it feels very cosy with all the Christmas decorations around, carols playing in shops, people wishing one another a Merry Christmas… Not much of that can be found in Rwanda. In bigger supermarkets and shopping centres you will see some Christmas trees, lights, and Santas, but clearly this is not a Rwandan “thing”. I asked my housekeeper what Rwandans did for Christmas, and he looked at me for a moment as if he didn’t understand the question. “We go to church”, he said finally, a bit uncertainly. I asked if there was anything special that people did at this time, and again, he hesitated a bit before saying: “Well, we might see some friends after church…” Christmas is simply a religious holiday, there is nothing commercial about it. It’s a time for prayer, rest and family meals (including some meat which many people can’t afford to eat on a daily basis) but only wealthy Rwandans who have experienced the Western lifestyle might have a Christmas tree and exchange presents.
I remember my first hot Christmas in South Africa four years ago. I suppose if you come from the northern hemisphere, wearing shorts and sandals in December feels a bit odd. And listening to Jingle Bells and all the Christmas songs played in shopping malls while it’s 30 degrees outside makes it all even stranger! In Pretoria, Christmas decorations would appear very early as well, and by December I was a bit fed up by Wham!’s Last Christmas 😉 Even though I never liked winter and the cold, this is the only time of the year I not only tolerate low temperatures, but actually expect them 😉 There’s something magical about wrapping up warm and sipping mulled wine by the fire and a fresh-smelling Christmas tree while the world outside is dark and cold… So sitting on my patio last week in my summer dress didn’t make me feel particularly festive! Especially that we also discovered that our Christmas lights weren’t working anymore…
For me, Christmas is primarily a family holiday. It’s a time when you travel the world to be with your nearest and dearest, to spend time with them and give them presents that would make them happy, something that would remind them of you when you’re far away from home. It’s a time of colourful lights, happy tunes, Christmas markets, cooking and baking, and obviously eating 😉 Yes, it’s commercial. Yes, it may be difficult to tell the difference between Warsaw, London and New York as decorations and the general atmosphere are so similar. But this is how I like it as this is how I’ve known it for most of my life 🙂 It gives me a sense of unity with quite a big chunk of the human race. However, I’m glad to see that it’s so different in Rwanda. It seems that the pure spirit of Christmas as a time to simply celebrate the birth of Jesus has been preserved here, and I think that’s great. I do hope that it stays like that. Not everything needs to be globalised, it’s quite refreshing to see that the typically Western way of celebrating Christmas has not affected Rwanda much so far.
On that note, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas! I hope it will be a joyful time for you, whether you’re in the cold or in the tropics 😉 And if you wonder what those Christmas decorations in Kigali look like, here is Santa from the Nakumatt supermarket in the city centre 😀