By Elena Karimi
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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!