I remember growing up Christmas time was marked with travelling to shagz (upcountry) and family gatherings. The meals were pretty similar in most families with Kenyan meals like chapattis, mukimo, meat, pilau and if you hail from Central Kenya then you know that minji (peas) stew with potatoes and lots of water masquerading as soup had to be in the mix. Christmas time was the time for new outfits; new shoes and clothes were part of the budget. This was the time to meet your cousins both from the city and from the village. Extended families got a chance to meet and share meals. This was one of those rare occasions, besides weddings and funerals that you would meet relatives from your entire clan.
There was a certain simplicity in celebrating Christmas that was common to almost all Kenyans. The program was pretty similar, once business and offices closed people travelled upcountry around the 24th of December. This was before everybody had mobile phones and social media was a thing. There was hardly any reason to inform each other that you would meet up during Christmas because it was expected. The goal was simple, to mingle and make merry with family.
Sharing stories with people you also realize that our parents had similar Christmas stories. I can’t keep count of the times that my parents and their siblings talk about how chapatis were a dish for Christmas only or a reserve for the rich. Apparently, even the chapati making pan was a luxury in most households and so on Christmas day households would lend each other their chapati pans. Families would buy many kilograms of wheat flour and make as many chapatis as possible. Everybody devoured this delicacy with a lot of appreciation because it would be a while before they were cooked again. There was a certain excitement that came with the festivities.
Today Christmas is very different from what used to be a typical Kenyan Christmas. People today celebrate Christmas by going to hotels and travelling. The numerous advertisements by tour companies on Christmas packages indicate how the trends have changed. Entertainment joints have flyers everywhere on their holiday performances because a majority of people prefer to go out for the festivities. For many people, the festivities mean sharing a meal with the nuclear family or a brief meeting with a few extended family members and then going back to individual activities.
I find interesting that over the years Christmas has become less exciting. People generally appreciate that they do not have to go to work but it is more or less like any other weekend in the year. The food that I would identify with Christmas while growing up is now food that we eat on the regular. There are chapati vendors every 200 meters in the estates.
Sundays and Saturdays have many families serving chapatis. Social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook provide an avenue for family members to interact or at least learn what is going on in each other’s lives. Maybe the economic times also prevent the kind of frenzy that used to be there. However, one thing still remains constant in the Kenyan Christmas; nyama choma, because is it even a Kenyan holiday if we are not indulging in some nyama choma?
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