What would celebrating Christmas look like in an African country? Having lived in Uganda almost full-time since 2013, Keith and Carolyn Jones have experienced several. This year their two translators, Richard Otim and Ouni Victor, willingly accepted when they were requested to describe how they celebrate in the villages. The rest of this article is a summary of their explanation of their Christmas customs.
The Lango tribe loves to celebrate many occasions: the end or beginning of a year, marriage, funerals, victory over enemies at war and child birth. When the Lango people came to know and believe in Christ, Christmas was natural to add to all the other celebrations.
A TRADITIONAL UGANDAN CHRISTMAS.
Christmas in Uganda is a joyful season, a quiet and reflective holiday. There is no snow on the ground. There are few decorations and lights spread over the city. It’s quite a stark contrast to the overwhelming celebrations and emotionally packed holiday traditions common in America. Our Sseko ladies explain that being surrounded by family and friends, savoring the peaceful day, and enjoying the food is what they love most about Christmas.
Sylvia, a determined lady in her late twenties, muses about the change she senses in people’s demeanor during Christmastime. “Around the holidays, everybody is joyful and in good spirits. People are very open and social, so you can talk to anyone. Everybody is happy. It’s a happy time. And it is a very popular time to get your hair plaited. You know it’s Christmas when all the ladies get their hair plaited.” She agrees with the other women, that spending time with family makes the day particularly special. Teopista says “I like Christmas because I am always with my family and we have a lot of fun. Sometimes I bring something, but we always eat a lot of good food and chat. We talk about our memories as children.”
Robinah takes advantage of the quiet day as she explains that her favorite thing about Christmas is resting! “After all the eating, I like to rest.” I think that an afternoon nap is a common tradition enjoyed by many cultures around the world on Christmas day. Esther, however, a young urban woman, likes the electrifying mood in the city around the holidays. “People are always crazy and buying clothes and it is very exciting. I enjoy celebrating with all my family together. We wake up early Christmas morning to make a lot of food, and then we go to church. When we return, we spend the whole afternoon and evening enjoying food, music and dancing.”
Matooke, a starchy staple food in Uganda made from plantains, is among everyone’s favorite dishes all year round. The most frequently mentioned dish partial to a Christmas meal however, is… chicken. Teopista says “I love to cook matooke, but it is tiresome and it makes your fingers very messy. So I really like to cook chicken at Christmas.” Sharon agrees, and she explains that “everybody knows Christmas is a day where we are going to eat! And there’s a lot of good music. My favorite thing to cook at Christmas is chicken. I usually eat pork once a month, but chicken is very special.”
Around the holidays especially, Aunt Florence is thankful for the health of her family and friends. They enjoy giving gifts and sending messages. She describes her children’s favorite Christmas dish. “We buy pumpkins and empty them. Then we fry chicken and put it inside and bake it. My children decorate the pumpkins, and after we celebrate with cake, we eat the pumpkin. It is very good.”
“Nkwagaliza Ssekukulu Enungi.”
Merry Christmas from Uganda! We hope you are enjoying the holiday season with your family and friends and savoring the traditions you hold dear.