Christmas is a time to give and receive love, a time to get together and celebrate the birth of Christ, and even if you are not a Christian there is still a sense that this is a special time of year.
Interestingly a lot of activities that are lined up do not necessarily reflect the nature and character of the man whose birthday we celebrate.
I am excited to put my court stories on hold and share with you Christmas in my home some 45 years back. There has been a dynamic shift in character as far as Christmas celebrations are concerned. Naturally there are certain aspects of Christmas that have resolutely refused to change. The family reunion and feasting are features that will always be linked to Christmas celebrations.
On this particular Christmas we were travelling from Gaborone to Francistown, a journey that many of my friends in the south were envious to experience. Some of them believed that I must be going very far as it was a journey that took a train a whole night and part of the following day to make.
The journey by road started three days before Christmas day. Everything was going well until we got to the Shashe River at Mathangwane and found it flooded. The flooded river forced all travellers to get off the lorries that were the only means of transport. Half the passengers in the lorry we were travelling in were men from Joburg going home on a short vacation. These men caught my attention because they were speaking Kalanga with a bit of Sotho. Actually some of them had married Sotho women who they were going to introduce to parents for the first time. The men were teasing each other about the possibility of finding their wives pregnant because some of them had been away for three years.
There was a character among them who seemed a bit disturbed. He was the most elegant wearing a ‘Battersby London Hat’ with a red feather on its side. He appeared agitated and very impatient with the slow flow of the river. He continuously checked his watch which appeared to be a new acquisition. Much later I heard him speak softly to his friend in Ikalanga that he received a letter informing him that his wife “waka tjenjela” meaning that the wife has fallen pregnant while he was away and he desperately needed to arrive home before sunset according to the order from his parents.
He went on and on about this painful thing but his friends didn’t make much of it. They simply said “uno swika ulipisa mpara ubo ugala ne banababo” (You will make the man pay and you continue to live with your family) So Christmas was also a period for a lot of these cases to be heard at family level and reconciliations made.
While stranded travellers camped by the river, provisions of bread and other goodies from Jozzy would keep all fed and provided for as the Shashe River took its time to allow a way for the lorries to cross over.
Not reaching our destination before the 25th was not an issue because Christmas was celebrated until mid-March of the following year. When we finally arrived at the village a young girl from the neighbourhood arrived at our homestead. She knelt down and greeted the elders and shyly announced in Ikalanga, “Tate babuya Kukayi ndoomukokela Khisimusi kunziwedu ne tshipi” (My father has arrived and I have been sent to invite you for Christmas at our house on Sunday) that was two days after the actual day of Christmas had passed. So Sunday came and we all went to the place 2kms away .There was no excitement for me because my mother had made by dress too big. Back then the Woolworths, Pep and Chinese shop merchandise was unheard of.
Upon arrival at the Christmas party we were led to the front hut which represented the family lounge. The few belongings that the family had were displayed there. There was a rope running from one end of the hut to the other and on it new blankets from Jozzy were hung along with a brand new bicycle that also imposed itself there.
The elderly people spoke admiringly of the man of the household that indeed he had not go to Jo’burg for nothing. The children of that household were wearing attractive readymade clothes from shops in Johannesburg, and even though all of them were ill fitting, the most significant thing was that in the area no one had ever worn a readymade garment from Johannesburg before.
Tea and dry bread was served generously. The bread was very dry and I later learnt that it was made of foam from home-made beer instead of yeast or baking powder. I tried to protest that the bread was not the same as the one we ate in Gaborone, but my mother gave me a stern look and sent me out to go and play.
Between December and March of the following year, young boys and girls ran from one home to the other to deliver verbal invitations to Christmas celebrations. As I have grown older and wiser I have thought about these activities that have since ceased to exist, as has to an extent the love in communities that have acquired the new traits of the 21st Century. Christmas in the North is now characterized by soccer tournaments. The elderly people remain at home to cook and eat alone while the younger generation spend every day of the festive season pursuing sporting activities.
The advent of contraception has significantly reduced Joburg trips, and poor women are no longer caught up in embarrassing situations.
If I had my way I would push back the hands of time, not to bring back rivers without bridges, but rather to return to a time of communities with genuinely loving people who did not confine Christmas to a day, but to a spirit that extended over several months. The older generation had a relaxed fellowship and complete trust, but of course they did not have television and internet to keep them trapped in their homes.
The new generation has set a new standard of Christmas celebration. Is there anything we can learn from the prolonged celebration of Christmas? Do we have the courage to let Christmas be a time to love and to give genuine love?
I wish you a Merry Christmas and a creative and fulfilling 2012. Remember we were created to live above the ordinary human plane of life. Peace.
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If you have a question or comment for Margaret please e-mail her at [email protected]