Merry Christmas From Sweden!

By Elena Karimi

Swedish Christmas is usually white, snow up to ten centimeters high. This year, there is no snow, except the measly remnants of the snow that fell a couple of weeks ago. Though it doesn't feel like Christmas, I am looking forward to the days away from work, the cosy evenings in-front of the fireplace with the in-laws and the dog in-law licking me in love, tail wagging violently, as though we have signed an agreement. I like the familiar small family of seven or eight if you count the dog, that gives me space to be myself. Some years, my guy Sebastian and I escape to a sunny place, running away from Christmas. This year, we decided to celebrate Christmas with his family, our family. Still, I am longing away to childhood Christmases surrounded by my own siblings and relatives. Hearing my childhood language spoken in childhood voices when I wake up in the mornings. The irony is, the magic of childhood Kenyan Christmases has been gone for many years now. Still, no Christmas away from Kenya ever measures up as a trigger for the celebratory mood I had as a child. I often wonder if other migrants and Afro-swedes, walk around in a daze, longing for another Christmas, in another place, with other people. The little nuances that differ between Kenyan and Swedish Christmas may be the cause of this lack of celebratory glee.
For example, Kenyan Christmases are a noisy feast, due to the mere fact that everybody available is invited. Most adults will bring their favorite music with them and dancing will start before food is served. Children are let loose in the countryside to sing and play. It is not necessarily Christmas carols. People will dance, talk, laugh and eat all at once. In Sweden, a melancholic people to start with, noise is frowned at. The voices need to be low. Music is low-key and definitely more Christmassy than anything else. It is cold outside so children and adults are cooped up indoors, itching to get out and breath. Or, watching the lined up Christmas shows on TV, starting with Donald Duck at 15:00.

Another difference is that Kenyan Christmas guest list is unplanned or loosely planned and the Kenyan Christmas dinner is never served. The food and alcohol plans cannot be faulted. Basically, Christmas and baby Jesus are not welcome until the bird, goat, sheep, or cow is tied outside grandmother's house in Nyeri or Meru. The grill for nyama choma - asted/grilled meat is in its place with a sack of coal beside it. The sacks of rice and sugar, the gallon of oil, the bucket of cooking fat, the bales of wheat and maize floor and the vegetables have been acquired. Since something has to be slaughtered for Christmas, on the 24th, someone is assigned the chicken-catcher role. To make things fun, the bird earmarked for Christmas dinner is let out to graze with the rest of the birds. The hen or cockerel runs the catcher in circles around the village trying to avoid being caught. Uninvited villagers can easily get caught up in the chicken catching episode. The bird will be caught, eventually. As a child, I was the best bird-catcher according to dad, outrunning a hen in ten minutes.

The cooking, grilling and drinking starts on the 24th and continues to the 26th. No table is really set, and everyone present is busy preparing and serving something to eat or drink. Naturally, a couple of Tusker crates – the number one selling beer in Kenya – are purchased. The whisky bottles are delivered from the cities. The Muratina and chang'aa is brewed by one of the older relatives in the countryside. Finally, sleeping arrangements are made. Extra mattresses and blankets were acquired and extra space was borrowed from friends and neighbors. By 15th December, the relatives with wives and children start to arrive wherever the party is at. There is no knowing how many people will show up for Christmas, so you buy food enough for double the number of people you think may show up.

On the other hand, I have never seen anything get slaughtered for Swedish Christmas dinner. Everything is bought from the grocery store. Not even a butcher's store. Swedish Christmas delicacies are almost the same as midsummer delicacies, only fatter and warmer. Alcohol-wise, the Swedish Christmas plans are similar to Kenya's, meticulous. Swedish Christmas dinner is served promptly at 18:30 on the 24th of December with the table is set for a pre-planned number of people for a pre-set length of time. An eyebrow or two will be raised if any uninvited person shows up for Christmas.

Ironically, when I celebrate Christmas in Kenya, I miss the quiet Swedish Christmas, and when in Sweden, I miss the crowded, noisy Christmas in Kenya. Regardless of where I am, warmth and love are ultimately enough for me. Merry Christmas!

What is Christmas like where you are? 
About Elena Karimi: I am an immigrant to Sweden, originally from Kenya. I came to Stockholm to study and stayed after finding work and love. Having siblings and friends in Kenya and East Africa, keeps my eyes almost always turned towards Africa. Being a black woman, belonging to the minority in Europe, keeps my spirit, survival instincts and prayers focused on the dark skinned population of the world. 

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