I am wearing my white Sunday best, the dress that my mother had bought for one of the church activities I had that year. I’m a good Catholic girl, not that there is anything wrong with it, it is just who we are at the time. A good Catholic family. Four children. A mother, and a father. I have two younger sisters who, just like me, are neatly clad in Victorian Sunday Best. All white with hats that create a foreign ambiance. I still wonder why the dresses were so trendy at the time, and what our parents had seen in them – especially that particular kind being made for little girls. Whatever the designer’s reasons were, the dresses did indeed manage to make us feel special. I occasionally felt like Cinderella, even though at the time I had never watched the film – I can only imagine how much stimulation screens would have added to my mind at the time, but for some reason, our parents never saw the need for a television in our home. I had only read the story, thanks to my biblioklept tendencies that saw me through the early years of primary school.
We walk happily from home to church, and from church to home over three hours later. There are ding-dongs from the men selling ice cream on the backs of their bicycles, and the loud caskets playing Christmas carols from different places we pass. Christmas had a spirit at the time. Nowadays, it is arguable if the day even still has a spirit as everything seems a little superficial. I’m unsure if my girlfriends are really celebrating Christmas when they say they are flying out to Dubai or Singapore with their boyfriends. The excitement for the ambiance of white beaches and clear skylines makes me tempted to ask, “Girl, do you even know what Christmas means? Are you celebrating the holiday or a holiday?” But this is not my space to trot. So, I bite my tongue, while inwardly cringing at the superficiality that comes with Christmas. Does this mean I have misunderstood everyone, or have I been misunderstood?
Back to 2003, when Christmas Mass was massive, and you could spot everyone in the neighborhood and even some school friends in the crowd. Amidst the sermon, I am hit with a wave of nostalgia – reminiscing the events of Palm Sunday that had happened months prior. We hadn’t attended the day service, I remember, but rather the night service on the eve of Palm Sunday. The whole Mass had been a dream to me. One of the things I remembered so vividly was waking up to the laughter of the congregation staring at me and my mother. Apparently, I had been the first person to sleep in church that night, and for some reason, the priest had made a joke of me. I hadn’t caught the joke, of course – but everyone else had. It must have been really funny because several people kept turning towards where my mother and I were seated, and laughing, genuinely. After Christmas Mass, on our way home, my father would cross the road to buy each of us a bottle of Safi – the mango flavor, to be precise – at the supermarket. Safi, the most delicious juice my tongue ever recalls tasting outside of Ribena. Was it my inexperienced tongue? Why do I still want to sip some Safi? Isn’t it absurd that the company that for so long had made us these sweet juices is no longer in existence? I heard recently from someone that the tastes, smells and sounds of our childhood stick with us for a lifetime and also awaken a stinging nostalgia when encountered.
The taste of my mother’s chicken and beef on Christmas day still rolls on my tongue. The aroma from the ‘Luwombo’ often prepared for visiting in-laws and the ‘man of the house’ – my father. I can almost taste it now as I write… Not to mention the Christmas songs that often played as early as November. The merchandise displayed outside of shops, on the streets of Kampala and our neighborhood. Where did it go to? Why did it stop? What happened to Sunday best? Who hid the aroma of my mother’s food? What happened to the Merry Christmas songs? Either I have changed too much or adulthood has caught up with me. I have not seen a Christmas tree in seven years. Not in my parents’ house, and not in anyone else’s house for that matter. Need I visit someone this Christmas? Did someone put up the Christmas tree when I was away and took it down just before I returned? What happened?
I know how this unculturedness started. First, with my scholarship to study abroad, and so departed family culture as well. With no one to stay with during Christmas break except an empty dorm room and the blank ceiling, and later a dinner with a few parties of shared nationality, one could only easily detach. By the time I returned home, family was a foreign thing to me, so was charisma and Christmas. I celebrated the next few Festives by going to the source of the Nile River in Jinja, and sitting the day away in contemplation and thought. Watching the water flow calmly, buried in deep thought as families walked to the restaurant and left a couple of hours later. I could sit in one spot for the whole afternoon, clutching tightly onto my phone, or onto a novel whose pages I only read after overwhelmingly long breaks. Who was I? What had I become? Who was I becoming? Why didn’t anyone ask me anything? What reasons did I give to my parents and family for being away? I can barely remember!
What did I really want with my life and, while everyone was home with family, why was I away by myself for a whole Christmas afternoon, with only a bottle of Ginger ale before me?
The Festives are here. I know it so well because for some reason, I will not be attending the apprenticeship arts program I have been attending for the last six months. Why? Because everyone wants to take the time off with their family, so that they can prepare for the festives. Speaking of festives, so much has changed. But why?
The family set up has changed. I think of Christmas now as an adult, and I wonder if I will be able to enjoy it the same way, wearing the same charisma as I did when I was seven-years-old. I sit down and ponder, how do I want my son to perceive Christmas?
This ought to be the time that I shape his view of the festive – but do I really have to? I was lucky to have celebrant parents. They took me through it all, ensuring I had my innocent fun, until I was adult enough and had become a wanderer on my own. It is not their fault that along the way, I encountered various doctrines that changed my perception of the event. But wouldn’t it be absurd for my son if he missed such a juicy part of childhood just because his mother has not fully defined how she feels about the day? But why doesn’t the mother celebrate the day anyway? I go back and forth, arguing with myself, I should make an attempt to make this day special. If not for myself, for my son at least. But how do I achieve this new aspiration? Will I stay home and cook? Will I carry my son to my mother’s home so we celebrate the day with her? What is everyone’s plan for the day?
Who am I? What do I want? Who have I become? Do I make an attempt to shape the day at all for my toddler? Does doing anything about Christmas Day celebrations, or not doing anything about the day at all, make me a bad mother? For all the other festive days, I am in. I mean, who wouldn’t want to celebrate a new year? Or the closure of an old one? But I do have my preservation for Christmas Day. Biased or unbiased – to be unveiled later.
Of course, I am not the type to have a long list of resolutions for the new year. I would like to argue that the whole idea is overly exaggerated as three months into the new year, the majority of people I know have already thrown in the towel on the aspirations they had. In a matter of seconds, we have entered the new year already. The old has gone and the new has come. Many still catch themselves scribbling the previous year while signing documents, and often have to open their mouths ajar, shocked that their mind is still stuck in the past. Yet at this point, many of us have forgotten the past. We are anxious about the present, undecided about our actions and scared of the future. We are human. We are ambitious, holding steady our gazes onto the prize while walking on the treadmill. We are never grasping the prize! Only the little bubbles the wind around the prize blows our way.
Clasping at a bubble feels sweet sometime. But if there is one thing that is ours to hold onto for eternity, it is the Hope. The Joy and gladness festives carry, is a spirit that ought to be embraced. The gratitude for having been alive, having lived. Even momentarily.
I saw the light in your eyes. The big smile you wore last Christmas. I was never able to tell you how that made me smile deep within, even though my mind was buried in thought. They were only thoughts of you. That broad smile you wore when you walked into that restaurant with your five-year-old. I remember she had a gap in her teeth, some teeth missing, but her smile was so captivating, her joy so evident, she carried the spirit of Christmas. She reminded me of my younger self. I hope that if I cannot retrieve the same smile this season, at least I can see my son wearing it, beaming with joy, running to me, holding me in that innocent embrace.