Christmas cheer is in the air. “Unakulia wapi Christmas (where will you celebrate Christmas)?” is the question on everyone’s lips.
Well, most would prefer a beach holiday at the coast, in Zanzibar, or even in Barbados for the two important days, the 25th and 26th. Unfortunately, many can’t afford the luxury and their travel exploits are restricted to their rural homes.
Given that advance planning is not a national trait, expect a lot of chaos the roads. Many urbanites are en route to their rural homes, and a majority are travelling with their belongings, like furniture, bedding and livestock, as if they are moving for good.
We asked a cross-section of Kenyans what they anticipate from their compatriots this year.
Nairobians in the village
“Urbanites, especially Nairobians, will stand out in the villages like a sore thumb. They will be showing off to villagers their new or hired cars. You will see many walk around with bottled water. Others just won’t keep car keys in their pockets. Yet others will insist on speaking in English to villagers,” laughs Audrey, a city resident.
She says there will be odd pictures on social media of urbanites posing with livestock, with hashtags like #ShagsTings.
“Others, who have no clue about digging or weeding will want to show off online how great they are at farming and will take photos in neighbours’ maize, sugarcane or wheat plantations,” she says, adding that some will make a nuisance out of themselves by making odd demands.
They will harass the local barman, demanding pink champagne, Glenfiddich, Moet and other choice whiskies, or ice-cold beer, knowing too well such ‘luxuries’ are not available at the village pub.
“There will be pretentious ‘slay queens’ who won’t stop complaining about how smoky the village kitchen is. Never mind these are the same girls who smoke shisha in Nairobi like their life depends on it,” chuckles Audrey.
Kenneth says many urbanites will be glued to their smartphones, making and receiving endless calls in a desperate attempt to find a party within an acceptable radius where other town dwellers are gathered.
“Nairobians never miss an opportunity for freebies, unless it is raining and transport is an issue. When an offer of free booze or bites is offered, one responds promptly for there will be lean times come January,” adds Kenneth, who is also planning to travel to his rural home on Christmas Eve.
He adds that the idea is to hop from one party to the next because it will take another year before one encounters such levels of generosity.
To-do list while in shags
For many who plan to travel to their villages, there is also a long list of people to meet and things to do. There will be many expectations to manage. A grandmother’s shopping, which most have been promising since January, must be done.
There is always a cousin’s demand for a beer debt, carried forward from last Christmas, which has to be settled. There are many long-lost friends to be visited.
“Wives have issues with husbands around this time. First, they always feel bulldozed in their husbands’ meet-and-greet the villagers tours when they have their own preferred schedule of events,” says yet another Nairobian, Alice.
“The children will start complaining of boredom hardly a day into the holiday and spend all their time fiddling with their parents’ smartphone or demanding foods like sausages, hotdogs or even pizzas, most of which are still pipe dreams in the village,” she adds.
Besides sports and betting, politics will dominate most conversations. Urbanites, especially those from Nairobi, assume they are the best political analysts.
Most of these know-it-alls will be unpacking to locals details of the now-famous handshake between former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta and the BBI shenanigans.
“Others will, mostly under the influence of alcohol, turn into political analysts, explaining Raila’s or Uhuru’s next political moves on BBI. They will animatedly argue about local siasa, wondering why the county chief hardly makes it to the news or his inability to play at the national level like Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko or make power moves like Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua, Makueni’s Prof Kivutha Kibwana or Mombasa’s Ali Hassan Joho,” jokes Philip.
There will be those keen on spreading or catching up with the latest gossip.
Relatives are always curious about who has been left worse off at the end of the year. Who got fired from their workplace? Whose marriage is on the rocks? How is so and so copping after details of their sex scandal with an in-law were laid bare? Whose children are losing in school or in life?
What does the day mean to Kenyans?
Beyond the religious significance of Christmas, the celebrations mean many things to different Kenyans. This will also play out, in some cases rather dramatically.
“To the children of the rich, it is a day to receive gifts and party. To their village counterparts, it is a day to dress in their Sunday best and munch delicacies they hardly eat throughout the year like chapati, biriani, chicken or cake,” says Edward, adding that it is also a big, special day for the village charismatic preacher.
“This is when the man of God rips off churchgoers with impromptu fundraisers, especially when he notices Nairobians’ chubby and glowing faces in attendance. I mean, there is always an urgent need, like replacing a broken trumpet for the church choir,” laughs Edward.
According to a certain Steve, for the corporate heads, this is the time for photo opportunities with the less privileged in society. This, he says, is normally followed up with the needy in children’s homes getting a treat.
“For advertisers, Christmas is the time they persuade and nag parents to purchase for their kids stuff they don’t really need,” says Steve.
Now that the day means different things to different people, it also follows that it will be spent differently. For some like John, Christmas is the time to dodge and avoid pesky village-bound relatives by flying down to the Coast or outside the country for a holiday!
This is when unhappy single women with no boyfriends or ‘sponsors’ to cuddle with will hide indoors, watching movies and series.
“For single men, around this time is when they seek ex-girlfriends for short-time reunions to make merry. Meanwhile, this is when ‘hustlers’ who can’t afford travelling to their rural homes hang around Nairobi, gate-crashing parties in the hood,” says John.
He adds that for others like college students, this is when they raise funds and throw beach parties. Meanwhile, he says, this is also when Nairobi-based divas and models take their dieting madness a notch higher, worried about gaining tens of kilos through feasting.
“Around this time, our children take us back to that special place the festivities held in our hearts until we grew up and realised Santa was a commercial gimmick,” laughs Salim, adding that as one grows older, the less the religious significance they attach to Christmas, instead turning it into a break from the social, political or economic woes troubling the nation.
How X-mas will be spent
For some Kenyans, especially the broke types, Christmas is just a day like any other. They blame commercialisation barons for messing up the solemn day and wish it would pass as quickly as possible for normal life to go on.
“I grew up believing Christmas must be memorable. But with time, I have scaled down my expectations of the festivities. In fact, like most parents, I have developed a phobia for Christmas, especially because of my cash-strapped budget,” complains Cecilia.
She, however, is quick to add that when you have children, it becomes even tougher to avoid the Christmas consumerism.
“Children put so much pressure on parents to treat them to a memorable Christmas. Failure to which, they gate-crash neighbours’ parties, making their parents feel useless and look bad,” she chuckles.
“At every shopping mall, there is a gyrating mechanical Santa, grooving to Christmas carols to lure children into the shops and, in the process, clean out their yuppie mums and dads,” says Cecilia.
In these hard economic times, the mainstream perception we got while preparing this report is that, without children who are overly excited about festivities, for most grownups, Christmas is just like any other extended public holiday weekend.
Many will use the day to catch up with friends, relatives or associates over roast goat meat and copious amounts of alcohol, and moan about the government, taxes and corruption.