The season is upon us again. The lights and decorations are up, the carols are ringing from dale to vale and from cathedrals to concert halls. The noise merchants are promising us the biggest, “loudest” boom-booms we will ever hear. That is, if our eardrums hold out till the great day.
Even before we know it, we are part of the crazed multitudes milling around the myriad malls, markets, dukas and kiosks, “shopping” for the day, down to our last penny and cent. Tomorrow will take care of itself. If this is not true, we will not find out till the landlord comes calling next month and the little ones pack their satchels, ready again for school.
This is also the season of migration to “home square” (our rural bases), and it is, indeed, a spectacle to behold. I wonder if there will still be people trying to board buses and matatus through the windows. The transporters are certainly ensuring a strong lining to their pockets, to be able to carry all the weight of the extra coins reaped from the wildly hiked fares.
But even for those with no “squares” to home to, the season has got its differences and dividends, as I remember from the days when my rural base, “the village”, as they call it out there, was hopelessly inaccessible, for Ugandan political reasons. I discovered that the seven final days of December were the best times to walk, drive or generally get around Nairobi. The deserted downtown streets and the desolate corporate towers in the CBD were almost sublime in their silence and quietude.
Anyway, the perennial question around this “magic season” is: is it worth all the hype, all the bother and the excitement? The answers are, I suppose, multitude, ranging from a cynical “no, it isn’t’” through “sure it is” to “how dare you ask?” The individual responses would largely depend on who is asked and what their understanding of Christmas is.
You would, for example, be surprised to learn that, although the feast is understood to be derived from biblical writings, some Christians, believers in the Bible, are dead set against its celebration. These argue that the festival has nothing to do with the facts of the Christ, and it was a spurious conspiracy (mainly by self-indulgent Europeans) to “Christianise” a cycle of pagan rituals.
Those who firmly believe in the spirituality of Christmas reply that the celebration is not about calendar dates or historical facts. Rather, it is concerned with the commemoration and contemplation of divine mercy in the coming of the unique Christ person and his message of love, forgiveness and eternal life.
There is also the strong sub-theme that “nothing is impossible before God”, if you believe. These are the people who insist on “keeping the Christ in Christmas” (which means the celebration mission of Christ), and not replacing him with the anonymous, nondescript “X” that characterises today’s “Xmas” frenzy.
Indeed, the concern of most serious believers today is that the X-mas enthusiasts exploit the season for purely commercial, hedonistic and material purposes, without any reference to the spiritual and human values that it was and is intended to signify. Generous believers do not want to be killjoys. There is nothing wrong with having good, clean fun at Christmas. But using the occasion as an excuse for irresponsible excesses, like overcharging passengers and customers, dumping expired and substandard goods on unsuspecting shoppers, is a bit too far removed from the season to reflect its spirit.
Speaking of spirits, the consumption of liquids that unworthily bear this name, and other inebriating beverages, has also become part of the season’s celebrations, in addition to other forms of gross conspicuous consumption. The worst aspect of this is the raft of reckless, indecent and violent acts that such indulgences breed. Isn’t it absurd that, at the end of each Christmas celebration, we should be counting the victims and casualties of over-speeding, drunk-driving, bar brawls and domestic violence?
Also not to be coddled are those rogues who are hell-bent on making our celebrations an endless orgy of infernal cacophony. Christmas is a season of peace and tranquillity, and even the music that goes with it should be an echo of angelic inspiration. I will certainly say a sincere prayer of rich blessing to those who grace this year’s Christmas with a gentle wave of melodious and sweet strains.
Anyway, whatever our persuasions are, there are lots of lovely and positive values that we can remember and practise during this season. The home-going, for example, is one of them, as it underlines the importance of family and community fellowship. But we should guard against the temptation I have observed among us town-dwellers to make just a token stop at the homestead and then spend the rest of our visit hanging out at the shopping centres with our fellow urbanites. When will our mamas and papas ever have the opportunities to really “see” us and have a chat with us?
My own Christmas focus this year is on that core purpose of the celebration, the birth of a child. The child may be divine, angelic, royal or common like me. That child is humanity. It is the most definite assurance of the continuity of our existence. Humanity “will live forevermore” because of the birth of this child. That little boy, that little girl, whether in a manger or in a cot, is probably the main reason why you and I are here, to ensure its survival, and ours.
That ties up with another dear love of mine, the environment. In what kind of environment do we want that child to be born, and to grow up? What are we doing about our surroundings, right now, to ensure that our children, the ones already born and the others soon to be born, are raised somewhere more wholesome and salubrious than a cattle barn and a manger?
Wish me, as I wish you, a truly joyous and blessed season.
Prof Bukenya is a leading East African scholar of English and Literature. [email protected]