My Christmas and New Year Childhood Memories
by: George Komo
I send Greetings of the Christmas Season to our many Family Hope Charity friends. I rightly call you friends because you have truly showed a generous response to our mission requests. Again, thank you.
Another Christmas and New Year rush is quickly catching up with us. I can’t believe the other day we were just welcoming 2016, and soon it will already be a new year. Since I came to the US almost a decade ago, my childhood memories of Christmas and New Year celebrations come alive during this festive season of the year.
I feel honored to share with you those memoirs.
In Kenya, the two seasons are big time celebrations both in the cities and countryside. Most times I celebrated Christmas and New Year at our ancestral home in the countryside. Such was typical to most Kenyan families. Christmas Eve was probably the busiest day of the holiday. Our Kikuyu (my tribe) custom expected fathers of the household to throw a Christmas party for his family and everyone comes to visit his home. In the celebration preparations, the mother would lay out her plans too. Kids were expected to help out with the plans.
Each household duty and other activities were shared during the gathering. In my family, males over 14 years old were assigned heavy duties - slaughtering the goat on Christmas day. Since male lads were circumcised between 12- 14 years of age, manhood and heavy chores followed. Lads below 12 were considered kids, which meant “light” duties. They were the “ball boys”. Girls over 15 years old were called to help the adult females in the kitchen as they were considered adults. Their siblings and cousins below that age were expected to perform light duties, cleaning the kitchen to ready it for the “big day”.
By 9 pm on Christmas Eve my family would begin the walk to our church - 5 miles away - ready for the festive midnight mass to “receive” the new born child-Jesus. In African culture, the birth of a new child is considered sacred, a big blessing to parents and the community at-large. The new life assured continuity of life for family and the community. Every member of the family and the community expresses utmost joy for the new addition among them. That similar mentality brought everyone out to midnight mass. At the conclusion of the mass the congregation would burst in songs, ululations and dances fitting of a birth of a new kid in the family. There were no child figurines present though as that would be considered an abomination. On Christmas day, families that lived far from the church were not expected to attend Christmas day mass. My family fell into that category.
By 7 am Christmas day my family compound was a bee hive of activities with both young and old tending to their assigned duties. By noon the food was ready to be shared. The father summoned those present (family and visitors) with a word of welcome to the visitors, then thank the family for the job well done and finally distribute Christmas present to the kids. Opening my Christmas present was a time to behold. Most kid’s presents were clothing and shoes. After the meal kids would rush to the house and adorn the new outfit. They were carefully handled since the next gift of a similar kind would most likely come on the same date the following year. Every kid was excited for his or her new outfit. None of the kids felt cheated or short changed by their parents. Kids were not expected to grumble even if one did not like the gift. Grumbling was interpreted as open disrespect to the giver of the present. Presents to the kids were handed over by parents once a year so one would better appreciate; otherwise he or she might not get any gift next year.
Adult parents did not expect any kind of gift from kids. They spent the latter part of the day having a drink of traditional beer with other adult parents in the homes. Only those over 35 years and married would be expected to take alcohol; otherwise it was a shame for those under that age to be found drinking.
African Christmas celebrations extended right up to the New Year festivities. December 31st was another special day to many kids. That was the only night they would be allowed to stay awake until after midnight. I looked forward to the day. I remember forcing myself to sleep during the day time so that I would be wide awake during the night. As kids we ushered in the New Year by literally jumping across a trench by the homestead at exactly 12 midnight. That was an indication that “we jumped the year”. On such nights when the moon was bright in the sky we could play hide and seek games in the compound.
On the first day of the year I was already anticipating next Christmas when I would receive another new outfit. I miss those good days.
As I reflect on my childhood Christmas and New Year Joys one word stands out...
The simplicity of all (young and old) in the family helping each other to celebrate the bond of kinship. The simplicity of walking 5 miles together as a family/village to the church.
The simplistic concept of welcoming boy Jesus in the family/community.
The simplicity of kids appreciating gifts once a year.
The simplicity of kids playing games in the dim moonlight.
The simplicity of literally jumping across a simple dug out trench to usher in a new year.
It is that joy of simplicity Family Hope Charity wish to share with clients.
Your generous support helps us to reach our goal.
Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year full of God’s blessings to you all.
FHC Board Member