Recollections of Christmases Past
In the Wukari of my childhood, you knew Christmas was around the corner when the music store at the corner of the market changed, from blaring the throbbing ‘Afro beats’ of Fela Kuti, the saxophone-accompanied mellifluous voice of Manu Dibango or the high-pitch crooning of Miriam Makeba, to playing operatic Christmas carols. Hmmm, these carols -- as kids we commented on what these singers were doing. Opera singing was foreign to us:)
The Harmattan wind from across the Sahara filled the atmosphere with fine dry dust, casting the sky in grey; competing with the sun. The mornings and evenings were cool and our teeth chattered, trying to keep warm in our West African version of ‘winter’. But the anticipated joy and magic of Christmas far outweighed the ‘harsh’ climate we were experiencing! We looked forward to the end of school and to new clothes for the season. There were no department stores full of ready-made clothes, so as the day drew nearer we made sure to ‘remind’ the tailor at the market square not to delay – what a tragedy it would be if we didn’t have our new finery on Christmas morning.
As the day drew nearer, more excitement -- singing and drums could be heard in the evenings. Then the day finally came! Little sleep for anyone on Christmas Eve. Cooking began in the wee hours, so that gifts of cooked food were ready for us children to deliver to neighbours and extended family members in the morning.
And oh, that morning! After sharing food and donning our brand-new outfits, we filled the only church in town almost to bursting to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Members of the popular akishe traditional dance troupe came to join their Christian relatives to dance in a huge procession to the royal palace of the Aku Uka (Jukun King) to wish him ‘Merry Christmas!’ During my growing up years, Christmas celebrations were joined by everyone, regardless of their religious association, either dancing, drumming or watching as spectators. In this sense, the celebrations served the role of community-building. Memories, memories! Those were the days…
Now as an adult, the child who once longed for new clothes and festive food has evolved. Each of my readers will have had a different experience of Christmas or maybe celebrating it was never even part of your childhood. Regardless, I however hope the core message of Christmas (and the hope, joy and good will it generates) can still inspire and may not be lost to you.
This season offers us an opportunity to inspire hope or courage in someone who particularly needs it. Besides giving to whatever charity close to your heart, you might visit that widow or widower for whom this season heightens their sense of loss. It is interesting the plethora of songs the Christmas event has inspired down through each generation and in each cultural milieu. There are, for example, songs that talk about the weather, love lost and and love found; of decking the halls, of bells jingling and snowflakes. 'Rudolf, the Red Nosed Reindeer’, is one of my favourites. But there are also songs that seek to steer listeners toward the spiritual and core message of the Christmas event. One of these is ‘Joy to the World’. If you are interested and able, you can find an interesting rendition of this classic by 'Celtic Woman' by doing a google search on Youtube.
Well, it has been an interesting year with you! Please watch out for ‘Light’ vol. 2 in 2018! In this volume, I experiment with the ethereal sound of the theramin, operatic voices, the heart-throbbing sound of the Jukun ganga (drum) and West African Djembe!!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!