The many faces of Christmas
(Page 2 of 2)
James looks forward to a Christmas Eve spent decorating the tree - and blasting carols on the stereo. Like most upper-middle-class families in this heavily Christian country, his family will get a fresh-cut tree from a roadside vendor and hang it with balloons, Christmas cards, and candies. Unlike most nights, when his mom makes him go to bed at 10, James will get to stay up until 2 watching TV. He's looking forward to "the Christian movies, like the one about Jesus Christ."Skip to next paragraph
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It's a far cry from Christmases his mom, Juliana Sentongo, recalls in her village. "Ah, they were beautiful, bee-yu-tiful," she says, sitting on another couch in a bright-green gomesi (a traditional wraparound dress). Days before Christmas, several families would slaughter pigs and share the meat with the village. Several cows were also slaughtered and shared. Christmas was often the only time villagers ate meat.
Many of Uganda's 23 million people still observe Christmas this way. But for Mrs. Sentongo, things have changed. She married a successful car importer and has joined the wealthier class. She notes with a hint of sadness that families in the capital prepare Christmas meals only for themselves - not for their neighbors, as in her village.
Some things haven't changed, though: On Christmas Day, she'll put on her finest gomesi and go to church with her family. They'll come back for a feast. "I'll even get two sodas that day," says James excitedly - compared to his usual one (or none). He will also get some new clothes, maybe even new shoes. Presents are not a big focus for his family at Christmas, despite their relative wealth. Rather, they will put the stereo outside and "dance until it gets dark," says James.
As for whether she'll make her kids go to the village, Sentongo sighs and says, "Nah, they wouldn't have much fun."
Over on the other couch, a smile creeps quietly onto James's face.
- Abraham McLaughlin
Marie and James Scott and their daughters Rebecca (at college) and Naomi (15) celebrate Christmas in their rural home on the coast in a way that carries on some traditions. But to Marie and James, "the whole concept of Christmas has changed."
The couple are both from northern Scotland - Inverness. Both remember the Christmas days of their childhood as special and full of treats, but also as rather grim.
"Everything shut down," Marie says. Christmas "really did revolve around going to church." Some people even went to work on Christmas until the 1960s.
New Year's is a longstanding Scottish secular celebration. But the Protestant Calvinist tradition frowned on Christmas revelry as too "papist." Some didn't even send Christmas cards. There were presents, though. James recalls sleepless nights thinking about presents.
Today, Marie extends her "family" at Christmas with an open house - "open to anybody who wants to come," even the neighbor's dog. As for a tree, Marie has dug up a pine from the garden. It's in a pot outside where they can see the lights. (Naomi wanted a tree inside.)
Presents are still part of the Scotts' celebration. "Everyone likes getting presents," Naomi says. "Especially when it's something you really, really want!"
- Christopher Andreae