The month of December is usually an exciting one for most people around the world. It’s a month many look forward to because of the holidays coming up. It’s a time to take leave off of work and spend the holidays with family, catching up and eating together. It’s a time to unwind before a new year sets in.
In Kampala, it begins to feel a bit more like the festive season in November after the heavy rains. At the sound of the first down pour, Nsenene (grasshoppers) a beloved delicacy to many Ugandans make their way on into the markets and the capable arms of street food vendors. This goes on for the entire month and well into December.
At the dawn of December, Christmas music can be heard playing from every street corner, shop and market. This is when you now that it’s time to hit the downtown area and do some Christmas shopping before the prices are hiked and the streets are impassable, because there are so many people attempting to do their Christmas shopping. These streets are surely not for the faint-hearted or the slow walkers; you’ve got to be quick or get stepped on. Your bargaining skills need to be top notch or you risk being cheated. You also need to be willing to spend your day bumping into people in the hot streets that the sun has graciously heated up to a seemingly oven-like temperature.
Clothes, shoes, bags, Christmas décor and an assortment of other things are spread out on the downtown streets. Depending on what you are looking for, you will most likely find it spread out at a more affordable price on those streets rather than in the shops.
By mid-December, the uncontrollable blare of Christmas music is hard to ignore and sometimes when you fall asleep, these very popular songs feature as the soundtracks to one’s dreams. For the uptown shoppers, the supermarkets and shops put up extravagant Christmas décor and signs promising affordable pricing to their customers. There is a buzz in the air as Christmas approaches. There is no denying it.
Churches around the city begin to put up ads inviting the flock to come and watch their Christmas productions and extravaganzas. Before the COVID pandemic, if you went by Kampala road around the 22nd, you would leave gaping at the miles long snake-like queues of people waiting in line to watch the Watoto Christmas Cantata. There’s even a possibility that after lining up for hours, you still won’t get in. It happened to me once, just as I approached the entrance, the gates were closed. They were full to capacity and I missed the show.
By the 20th of December, the streets of upper Kampala start to feel empty. It’s hardly noticeable, but it seems like there are fewer people around. This is because those who could get off work early have begun to travel upcountry to be with their families and fled the city before transport prices are hiked to more than twice the usual rate. By the 25th, there are still desperate travelers trying to make it to the village and they have no choice but to part with the exorbitant transport fee.
Food vendors selling their products to travelers heading up country for Christmas (Photo source. Stock photo)
Whether in the city or upcountry, there are a few things that have to happen on Christmas day. For starters, the entire family dresses up in their Christmas clothes and make their way to church. I remember always wanting to walk around church a little more so that everyone could see my new clothes and shoes.
After church, comes lunch which seems to be eaten for the entire afternoon. By the time everyone is done, they are too full to sit upright so some take to the floor and chat till the evening when their tummies feel light enough to then eat some more food.
For those who decided to stay in the city either because you have to work through the festive season or are too tired to travel but have no family around to go to for lunch, the neighbors will most likely bring you an overloaded plate of pilau rice, matooke (plantain), posho (corn bread), binyebwa (groundnut sauce), chicken and beef, because how does one not eat food on Christmas? If you have a little money to spend, you take to the empty streets of Kampala wondering if you are the only person who did not travel to the village this time. Even your usual boda guy (motor cyclist) has left you in the city. How are you supposed to get around now? After waiting by the road for longer than usual, you finally catch a boda and head to one of the bigger malls in the city almost certain that it will be just you and the guards there. To your surprise, the place is full. Every restaurant is hosting a large number of people and everyone is happy, smiling, eating and enjoying themselves. You have finally found the people who never left the city and you gladly join the tribe in one of the crowded restaurants.
A family sharing a Christmas meal (Photo source. Stock photo)
For those upcountry, the festivities continue till about the 28th December, when many start to leave for the city and try to settle back into their usual lives. Many often say that between Christmas and New Year’s, it feels like one long day. There’s no sense of time. There’s no rush, there’s no pressure to do anything other than enjoy the season. As the year comes to an end, the transport fare prices go up again to catch those traveling back into the city and they stay that way well into the second week of January.
Wherever Christmas finds you this year; with family, friends, in a different kind of chaos that you can‘t even begin to explain; or perhaps in your bed extremely tired from the long tedious year that is coming to a surprising halt, may we always remember that Christmas is the season to give, to love and to share. May this season be filled with joy no matter where in the world you may be, or how you choose to spend the holiday season. Merry Christmas.
An assortment of dishes from Northern Uganda being served on Christmas day (Photo source. Lilian Akullo)
Preparation of pilau for Christmas lunch (Photo source. Lilian Akullo)