Holidays, feasts and fasts are a significant part of Christian religious practice. And some Christian holidays have come to have a considerable impact on culture and tradition.
Whereas the birth of Jesus Christ would seem like the biggest event on the Christian calendar, it is argued that as far as Christian celebrations go, Easter is equally big.
Easter is a celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. It is preceded by Palm Sunday, and Good Friday. The 40 days prior to Easter form the Lent season, a time of fasting and repentance.
This Sunday, the world will celebrate Christ’s resurrection. In Rwanda, how do people celebrate Easter and what was it like before?
72-year-old Mary Mukamugemana, a mother of five from Nyanza District in the Southern Province is a Catholic and says that in the past, people celebrated Easter Sunday with a lot of excitement.
“First of all, well before the D-day, parents would teach their children Kinyarwanda songs about Jesus Christ’s resurrection such as Yezu yazutse, Pasika yacu, Nkuririmbe Yezu, among others. Families used to buy new clothes for the day as a sign of happiness,” she says.
She adds, “Families had to prepare beer made from sorghum and different foods and invite their friends from all corners to drink, dance, and be merry. It was and will always be a very special day for Christians.”
Mukamugemana says that it was a taboo to eat meat on Good Friday, at least back then.
During Lent, Christians were expected to seek forgiveness for their sins through penitence and to miss mass on Easter Sunday was a shame, she says.
“If you missed church on Easter Sunday, it was a shame and society would judge you like you’d committed a crime,” Mukamugemana recalls.
How is Easter celebrated today?
Jacob Migabo, a 55-year-old former Adventist from Ngoma sector who later converted to the Catholic Church, says that modernity has changed Easter preparations and celebrations.
“Easter Sunday today is like any other day. Families’ no longer get together to celebrate the day and people seem more interested in doing other things,” Migabo says.
Migabo says that technology has taken over and that now, Christians follow everything on the Internet. That’s how they communicate with loved ones rather than spend time with them. Some listen to the radio on Easter Sunday to find out how mass was, or listen to Easter songs on their smart phones.
“Parents used to encourage their children to value Easter which isn’t the case today. You rarely find churches fully packed on that day, as many have joined different religions that do not recognise the day,” he says.
Mukamugemana adds that Easter Sunday preparations are mostly non-existent in families that barely celebrate anything as a family.
“In many ways, it is no longer that day that brings everyone together,” she says.
Religious leaders share their views
According to Philip Rukamba, the Bishop of Butare Diocese, Easter Sunday preparations and celebrations have changed drastically.
“Christians in past had a different life from today. The culture has changed. It is the reason why Christians celebrate Easter Sunday in different ways these days.
“Christians in the past were strong in their faith and used every opportunity to show it. Easter was one of the days they celebrated most. Today, you can’t find such, maybe a few to be fair, but the excitement is gone,” Rukamba explains.
Reverend Nathan Gasatura, the Bishop of Butare Anglican Diocese, says that the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi is partly responsible for the ‘death’ of Easter celebrations.
“People had faith in their religion. It is a shame that some churches and religious leaders that were supposed to protect people ended up participating in the mass killings instead. It completely changed everything. Many people switched religions after that,” Gasatura says.