O Come All Ye Faithful: An African Christmas through carols
I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas
Our family spent a Christmas in southern Africa a couple years ago. It was difficult getting into the festive season as we sweated in shorts and T-shirts under clear, hot African skies. The blanket of red-brown dust contrasted with the cool, white snow we usually associate with the Christmas season. Occasionally, a Christmas carol could be heard over the radio or in the stores. One shop owner decorated the corners of his windows with spray-can snow. These tokens of the season seemed misplaced amid the heat and sunshine.
We Wish You a Merry Christmas
We had been planning to spend a few days of our Christmas holiday in Zululand, along with my parents and our newly made African friends in the area where my parents work. My mom and dad have a round hut covered by a thatched roof, which they call their second home. They spend most of their evenings there, after working alongside the Zulu community. Their work is varied, including the establishment of garden projects and training centers for many communities in an area that stretches for miles along the curvature of the twisting Tugela River. It’s an area of great need: poverty, sickness, and illiteracy dominate the lives of the rural Zulu. Single mothers raise most families, as they are either abandoned or their men are miles away working in the mines.
Deck the Halls
We were packing up and preparing for our Christmas celebration in this area when we received a terse phone call from a co-worker. There was a threat of war between two tribes and the whole area was on alert. Local news substantiated these fears of faction fighting, and we stared at the TV in disbelief as it flashed images of trucks transporting army brigades to try to sustain a fragile peace.
“How does an area practically void of men, with barely enough energy to survive daily existence, suddenly turn into a war zone, threatening violence?” I questioned my dad. “And why would this happen over Christmas?” His answer was practical, and its truth rang home along with the discord of past Christmas melodies. “It’s because the mines are closed for the holidays.”
I’ll Be Home for Christmas
The men had returned home from the mines for their once-a-year prescribed Christmas holidays. Young men accompanied the older ones, and soon stories flowed, tales were told, and old grievances rehashed. Generations of hostility boiled up as Zulu beer was downed. One threat countered another and soon war councils were being set up. Hidden among the bushes, large groups of men clustered around huge fires. Holiday pay disappeared into weapons and war accessories. Balancing tubs of food on their heads, women walked many miles on calloused feet between their round huts and these war councils to bring food for their men. The children huddled in their huts.
Days and nights slowly passed as big talk dissipated into drunkenness and the posturing of war submitted to the presence of the army. Few arrests were made as the men headed back to the cities and mines, returning to their labours. It would be another year before they saw their families again.
A Christmas to Remember
We will not forget our African Christmas. More important than the details of the story, I want to remember its significance. We saw first-hand how most of the world doesn’t live in the freedom that we experience here in Canada. Peace on earth is not a reality shared by everyone. Even here in Canada there are many families who will encounter their own turmoil while they wish their neighbours “Happy Holidays.”
Peace on the Earth
Amid carols, family festivities, and holiday celebration, my wish is for peace to be in our homes, in our communities, and throughout our world. This is the season that is specifically hallmarked for celebrating the incarnation of peace. Through the birth of Jesus and through his life, death, and resurrection, we have access to the greatest peace of all – reconciliation with God. And this is a peace available to everyone in any country.
O Come All Ye Faithful
I don’t want to forget our African Christmas because it will always remind me of the gift of true peace, even in times of turmoil. This Christmas, as I sing the familiar Christmas carols, I want to be thankful…and I want to be faithful. I want to share the message of peace not only with my family and neighbours, but with those around the world. May we all be involved in celebrating and proclaiming the significance of peace this Christmas season.