Thursday, June 20, 2024

Zambian Christmas Memories


By Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D. Emeritus Professor of Sociology

As I rush around to shop in preparation for Christmas, the annual debate that has occurred in Zambia and elsewhere about whether the holiday season comes too early and has been commercialized, doesn’t seem to exist anymore. To remind myself that Christmas can be simple, happy and relatively less painful, I go back to memories of my first Christmas which I always remember with nostalgia.

It was in 1959 at Chipewa village in the Lundazi District of the Eastern Province of Zambia in rural Africa. This is the earliest Christmas I can remember. I was one of more than 10 grandchildren in my mother’s Kabinda clan. My grandfather and grandmother were great farmers who provided us with abundant food, including delicious red kidney beans, corn, pumpkins, cassava, sweet potatoes, peanuts, chicken, and an occasional goat meat. But this year there was an air of excitement. Christmas was coming and word got around that we were going to eat something special on that day.

My grandmother had saved 12 pence during the year. My aunt walked all afternoon to the store at Hoya and came back in the rain that evening. Whatever she had bought was dry and had been obviously carefully concealed all through advance contingency planning. I could barely sleep with anticipation about Christmas and whatever my grandmother was keeping secret.

Early the following morning, as the grandkids jostled for position around the open fireplace in the house, a large clay pot of water was boiling. From a small brightly colored aluminum foil packet, my aunt a NyaMsuzghika sprinkled half of some black dry floating substances never seen before. She then poured a whole three pence worth packet of sugar into the pot. She stirred it. The children sat near the pot as adults – uncles, aunts, older cousins – sat a little distance waiting and making a running commentary among themselves on how excited we kids were.

My grandmother handed each a small rusty metal cup. Adults and larger metal mugs. She carefully and slowly poured a little bit of the dark steaming liquid into the cups enough so that the liquid could go around the many cups. My grandmother unwrapped pieces of golden brown, white and soft edibles which were known locally as scones; pronounced as sikono. She split each piece among four children while adults split halves.

I proceeded to slowly take a sip of the sweet dark liquid followed by a small deliberate bite of the sikono. The whole experience was known as drinking tea with a small piece of a bun and it sent all us kids bananas with profound sheer joy, pleasure, and brag ado. As kids this experience could not simply be bottled away.

Soon after most of this exhilarating event was over, I clutched by now a rather small piece of bun I had saved in my hand and ran outside the house to brag to other admiring friends in the village. “We drank tea and ate scones for Christmas!” I yelled at the top of my lungs as I pranced around. The other kids in the village begged for a piece of the Christmas. I gave each of them a smitten of the bun. Just enough to wet their mouths. But the kids were thrilled all the same.

That was my happiest Christmas ever. Later that morning we went to church at Boyole School and in the afternoon watched traditional dances.

More than sixty years – thousands of cups of tea and loaves of bread, pizzas, hamburgers – later, I have never really forgotten that Christmas. The majority of people in rural parts of Zambia and the Third World today still celebrate Christmas by eating something special in the whole large family – often a cup of sweetened black tea, a bun, or slice of bread.

So, during Christmas never mind if you do not get many gifts. Be happy to share these happy moments with family and friends, especially over a meal.


  1. Long time professor! Great read as always.
    And yes, thise if us who grew up in remote areas can attest to this. Manje why didn’t you write about eating chicken with rice in the evening? Us young ones were tasked with chasing the chickens. Our friends think chicken comes from the supermarket, lol.

  2. Great to hear from you professor – what a recollection, reminded my own early Christmas years that typically comprised of tea scones never mind breakfast, chicken and ‘sima’. Very deliciously cooked – rice was luxury and posh. Most importantly, Christmas was well understood – coming (birth) of Jesus Christ into the world foretold in time memorial – prophesied by people of the book. Immanuel -God tabernacled or incanated among his createrial beings.

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