It is Christmas and I am in Masaka…..

Everything is different here. The sun was shining brightly, the birds are singing, it is a warm day with temperatures in the high 20… it is T-shirt weather. How can that be Christmas? Christmas is suppose to be cold and rainy with snow occasionally.

When I left Canada, the plan was for me to be gone one year so thoughts of bringing Christmas decorations did not cross my mind…. Therefore, I do have any Christmas decorations… I have no tree to put up, no decorations or ugly angels to put on the tree, no snow flakes for the windows, no poinsettias to enjoy. How can it be Christmas? I do have some Christmas Cards given to me my a few of the clinic staff, some teachers, and friends. I have taken these and made a display on my coffee table along with a small wooden African Nativity set. But these are in Kibaale….. I did not bring anything with me to Masaka. But some dear friends of mine came prepared and their house is decorated with a Christmas tree and lights, angels, stockings and presents under the tree. ……………….. But that is not the case for most of Uganda I am familiar with.

The stores in Kibaale have no decorations, no Christmas carols, no displays, no place where parents can have a picture of their child taken with Santa, no last minute sales, no folks running around trying to find the perfect gift for a certain someone, no traffic jams….. It looks like it could be any day of the year.

Some of the stores in Masaka have decorations but not all…. You may see a plastic or metal Christmas tree with a few miss-matched Christmas decorations at the entrance to one of the shops…. The trees look like they just came out of the box as if the person putting it up has never seen a Christmas tree. No one is greeting you with the familiar words “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year”…………. There are no displays to check out…. things like Christmas cards, wrapping paper and ribbons are not out and easy to find. It just does not feel like Christmas.

No one I know owns a TV ……so, there is no count downs to Christmas, no Christmas specials to watch, no school Christmas concerts to attend since school has been out since the beginning of December….. Can it truly be Christmas?

A few days ago, I went to Kampala to do some shopping. I bought a few extra things like lamp chops, liver paste and sausage all of which are not available anywhere else in Uganda…. I bought a few presents for the five kids I will be spending Christmas with. Kampala was into Christmas… the big grocery store was filled with many big displays, people shopping, carols, and cashier greeting you with “Merry Christmas”…… In the mall was a small hut with a Santa sitting in the middle of it…. but there were no lines of small children or parents wanting their child to have a picture with Santa…. no one appeared to be interested. Could it be Christmas?

I have asked everyone from the clinic staff to many of the Kibaale teachers and students as well as the security guards in both Kibaale and in Masaka…….. how do you celebrate Christmas?

Without a question of a doubt, I received the same answer….. It is a time to celebrate. The day starts early in the morning with the preparation of the festival of food. It is the one day in the year when everyone will have meat to eat. After the preparations are completed; everyone goes to church. After the service is over, it is time to feast with family and friends. “It is the best day ever!!!!”….

It seems that if at all possible …. family members travel back to their home village to celebrate with parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings. It maybe the only time in the whole year when everyone gets together.

This morning, I went to church and found this little church full of Ugandans men, women and children all dressed up in what looks like new clothes. The service was very simple but participatory from the youngest child to the oldest father. It was a loud, joyous, exciting, with amazing music ………we were all there for one purpose only and that was to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ…. for his birth is the true reason for this celebratory season..

So….. I came to realize that Christmas in Uganda in many ways is the same as in Canada…..It is not so different after all.

Merry Christmas everyone and a Happy and Prosperous New Year 2013.