How the Festive Season has evolved in Rwanda

One of the things that struck some of us in Kigali when we first ventured in the country well over a decade ago was how the “Christmas mood” appeared to bloom late. Where I come from it begins to show as early as late October in some shopping facades as the Day approaches, complete with suitably emotive instrumentals befitting the season piped in the malls to heighten the mood and loosen the wallets.

One of the things that struck some of us in Kigali when we first ventured in the country well over a decade ago was how the “Christmas mood” appeared to bloom late.

Where I come from it begins to show as early as late October in some shopping facades as the Day approaches, complete with suitably emotive instrumentals befitting the season piped in the malls to heighten the mood and loosen the wallets.

The difference has, perhaps, been that the height of the season come this time of year in Rwanda, as has always seemed to me, has been with the subtle preeminence and emphatic good wishes that are unified with the lavish New Year celebrations. Bonne Année rends the air most emphatically.

But, with the many East Africans in the country, and especially in Kigali, the Christmas mood has been appearing to begin a bit earlier with each passing year as the high-rise malls continue to define the skyline and the big supermarkets spread their footprint.

Either way, it is eventually becoming an established long holiday culture beginning way before Christmas and lingering on for a few more days after New Year’s Day. It has been fascinating to watch how New Year and Christmas Day have “unofficially” become conflated into the Festive Season as it is in Kenya, or Uganda and Tanzania.

But, personally, while the long holiday may be something of a nuisance with the costs involved, there is the Gikuyu saying that goes, even as the house burns, the owner enjoys the warmth emanating from the fire.

Here am speaking for myself, being neither particularly Christian, nor overly concerned with the festivities so long as am stretched out on the couch with a good book.

And the two books I would have liked to go through during this period, doing away with the one am currently reading, are The Evolution of the West: How Christianity Has Shaped Our Values, by Nick Spencer, and Sceptical Christianity: Exploring Credible Belief, by Robert Reiss, both of which were recently critiqued in the iconic Times Literary Supplement.

Yet, perhaps, it is not so much the books, but how the critique has weaved an encompassing analysis of the Abrahamic faiths – Islam and Judaism, and particularly Christianity’s place in global culture and value system.

It observes how numerous metaphysical systems flourished in antiquity, of which Platonism – as espoused by the Greek philosopher, Plato – is only one of the better known. It also notes how most have perished, with Christianity being among the very few survivors.

For all the limitations of Christianity’s representatives (read some of the clergy and their all too human failings with worldly lusts), the critique observes, it forms the richest expression of culture in history.

“It is no accident that developments including the rule of law, the market economy, democracy and the welfare state have flourished most strongly in traditionally Christian societies. Within the past few generations, the UN Declaration of Human Rights emerged mainly from the hands of Catholics and Protestants working in tandem, while faith-based conviction has mobilized millions of people to oppose authoritarian regimes, inaugurate democratic transitions, and relieve suffering on a grand scale.”

Part of the reason Christianity stands at the prow of history, it goes on, is that it is emphatically not a Western religion alone, having assimilated assorted middle Eastern and oriental traditions on its way to Africa through the Western missionaries.

It is this I would have liked to delve deeper into. I may be a religious skeptic, but I do concede that “the Church is a source of social capital” for many, cementing as it does the goodwill the season signifies in much of the world.

But I am also inclined to agree with the critique that “although the Scriptures as a whole are humanly written and developed history riddled with ambiguities and dead ends and fresh starts, they nevertheless form powerfully challenging calls to humanity to grow and reform itself.”

This, to me – the call to humanity, even as conflict and threat of it troubles our peace of mind all around us the region – encapsulates the spirit of season in the day being observed tomorrow.

Merry Christmas.

 

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