In the beginning the Festive Season was as innocent as anything could possibly be. The period was associated with the birth of a ‘king’ and heading into the New Year was previously taken to be a time to recollect one’s thoughts and get together with family. It was a time of innocent joy and sober happiness. No one bled; only poultry and goats.
But, lately, the happiness and joy of the festive period is associated with so many things -among them, excessive alcohol intake, over feasting and irresponsible sexual activity. The path to the loss of innocence has been a slow fade.
For some, it began with spending a day or two over the festive period away from family and getting an alternative to fill the void, before it became a custom.
Wine previously was to assist in digestion after feasting, but it has now become the main attraction at the festivities among merry makers. The birth of the ‘king’ changed into a family get together before later changing to a time of the year to get wild.
But for others the transition from a sacred, thoughtful moment has not been out of choice but rather due to circumstances. The world moves fast and people get blindsided by life’s demands causing the festivities to seem like luxuries. To remind themselves of the festive period and get into the mood, they now have to light up their houses and work places with Christmas lights, install festive season wallpapers on their phones and play Christmas carols over and over.
Paul Muhimuzi is one of them. The 32-year-old father of two has seen times change and says he would not be surprised if they continue to change further.
Growing up, he says he needed nothing to remind him that the festive period was on. No lights or carols were necessary.
“We grew up in Uganda and were content with small pleasures over the festive period, like everyone getting together. It is during very few occasions that we were presented with gifts for the festivities, but all the extended family would gather mostly at our grandparent’s homestead. Children would play around as older folks would catch up.”
Looking back, the business man who distributes electronics, says it is the little things that made the period fun and memorable but the glamour that everyone is so eager to heap on to the whole festive season is hugely contributing to its unpopularity.
“Back then we didn’t ask for much. On Christmas day we were served food that we hadn’t had in a long time, before we resumed playing and running around. On New Year’s eve we would gather around a blazing fire, telling stories about the various schools we went to while older folks sat beside another fire with drinks. When it turned midnight, we would dance around the fire knowing that it would be a while before the extended family gathered again. Life was simple then, we didn’t ask for much.”
But in the new household where he is the head, the festive period, he says, at times requires advance savings and could at times leave him in debt. The modern day festive period, has been summarised into two days, Christmas and New Year’s.
“Life’s demands are more now and come at a high cost, you can’t just let loose. There is school fees for two children to be footed in January as well as a sibling who is in university. Without presents, my children cannot see it as Christmas.
The programme for the ‘modern’ day Christmas involves shopping for new clothes for the children and at least a new gadget they will enjoy. Also, taking them for lunch to a place they fancy where they get to meet and play with their age mates till later in the evening. It makes them happy and gives me and my wife a chance to meet friends who have a similar programme. The day ends fast and everyone is happy,”
Muhimuzi says and adds that it does not keep him away from his business for very long.
It is the same programme for New Year’s only that the new clothes are replaced by a new school bag or a new pair of school shoes. He feels that his children are missing out on real fun like the one he had but the pace the world is moving at doesn’t allow him to regroup the extended family; some of them are in other countries.
Even those who have stuck to their traditional festive period celebration say that it does feel as it used to then. It comes across as an imitation and copy of the previous one.
Sheila Bwiza, a 21-year-old assisting her brother in running an internet café and set to join university in the coming year, still has family get togethers as they used to have when she was younger only that nowadays they feel plastic.
“When I was younger, the festive period was not limited to two days. It began as school recess began, the mood was celebratory. Relatives’ children visited each other and the climax was a week before Christmas where we would meet at one relative’s home and forget everything ahead and behind us. This would go on until a day into the new year.”
Bwiza says that in those days nothing mattered than getting together with long lost relatives and sharing bits of their lives. Those are all memories. The modern day festivities are more colourful, she says, but lack life.
“Part of the extended family that lives around Kigali still gathers but it is not the same. We meet for lunch at an aunt’s place, tell stories and catch up briefly, some exchange gifts and head back home. Some may stay around having a drink till midnight but it’s never what it used to be. It could be that we have ‘grown up’ and forgotten what reunions should be like. It could also be that we have put figures and money ahead of real fun by putting a price on real joy.”
15-year old Martin Rusa has grown up knowing nothing other than the modern day festivities and sees nothing wrong or different with it. As long as he unwraps a package that signifies the love his parents have for him, hangs out with friends and a few relatives, all is well. “For me the festive period is a time to stay away from the usual school programmes and have fun. There are very many ways to have fun; it depends on one’s choice.”
At the end of it, the end probably justifies the means, though some will see it as a watered down festive season, it serves purpose to the partakers and come the New Year, we can all say we enjoyed the festivities.