My African childhood Christmas

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Growing up in Gaborone, my family truly cherished Christmas and the celebrations that the festive season came with. Since primary school, Christmas celebrations tended to start from the end of September with regular rehearsals of the nativity play and everything that was part of the end of year school concert. My friend Maipelo would always have a narration part and I would have a sidekick job being King Harold, Joseph or Mary. There would be traditional dancing, singing, marimba and multiple other activities. As the final days drew closer, rehearsals would either move to Maitisong or Legae Academy Halls which came with a certain level of excitement as we ventured out of school for rehearsals. Midway through the eagerness, we would have to calm our nerves to write our final examinations for the year and with those completed, concert preparations were full swing which basically meant, going to school to spend the whole day rehearsing. The curtain raiser entertainment would eventually give way to the main event and as the concert evening concluded it would only be a few days before school was finally out.

There was a tradition of having a “resolution day”, if I may call it that, on the last day of school which basically meant if anyone had said something to you/looked at you wrong at some point earlier in the year or whatever you wanted to “resolve”, the last day of school was the day. I remember being involved in a fight in grade 2 because some girls of another class of the same grade, had said a friend of mine had balloons in her a*s. Childish looking back at it now, but it was the done thing at the time.

School would finish late November or early December and the 6-week holidays would begin. Some of my friends would leave town and travel to their hometowns but my sister and I would always remain in town. We would usually spend our days, watching television or going to the town library which had some holiday activities available. Occasionally, we would spend the afternoon playing traditional ball based play (sekonti ball, ma-roundas) with the neighbourhood kids, ensuring that we got home and showered before mum knocked off to avoid a hiding.

My father would usually start his leave mid-November to start his farming hobby. He would spend weeks sitting on the tractor, ploughing for his farm neighbours and would return bearing gifts with all the income he got. My mother would work until the last week before Christmas. Her work would usually host a children’s Christmas party and give away traditional British Christmas food which my sister and I never really enjoyed. To this day, the smell of traditional pudding, which my mother cooked for hours on Christmas Eve, still irks me.

Christmas mornings were reserved for opening presents and getting dressing in new, often matching princess-like dresses for my sister and me with usual sparkly accessories.  We would attend the morning service at church and return home for lunch. As my mother’s boss would visit then, we had to remain in these clothes the whole time he was there and in our best behaviour which at the time seemed like a heavy imposition on us.  As my mother’s boss was British, his version of Christmas was very different to ours and as he provided the catering, we would have a traditional British lunch with turkey, pudding and all the trimmings. This is despite it usually being hot in Africa at Christmas time.

My fondest memory of Christmas is a rare one we spent with our extended family in Mookane, a little country town where my mother grew up. All my cousins came over and I remember having the best time. We played hide and seek, lit fireworks, made our own fireworks, played till the sun went down. I think my grandmother lost her voice at the end of the visit from yelling at us and calling everyone the same name.

I do miss my childhood Christmas, more so being close to my mother and sister as we are currently spending Christmas on 3 different continents. I also miss the gospel and Christmas carols singing, the nativity plays and talking about the true meaning of Christmas. I hope that in time, my family will develop our own traditions around the holidays, which will create amazing memories for my son.

With that, I will take this time to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, whatever it means to you and however you choose to celebrate.

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