By Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.
Emeritus Professor of Sociology
Author of “Sayings of my Mother”.
Christmas is always a hectic time as we prepare for family get-togethers, travel and make travel arrangements, gift buying, decorating Christmas trees, Christmas and Christmas day parties, and attending church events. The stress, anxiety, and excitement have become all familiar and unavoidable. The decades-old annual debate about whether the holiday season comes too early and has been commercialized has long been put to bed. Shopping malls in Zambia and abroad are now packed in a frenzy of buying. The whole world seems to have given up and embraced Christmas commercialization. The old adage is now true: if you can’t fight them, join them. To remind myself that Christmas can be simple, happy and relatively painless, I go back to memories of my first earliest Christmas which I always remember with nostalgia.
It was in 1959 at Chipewa or Chupu Village in Lundazi district in the Eastern Province of Zambia. I was one of more than 20 grandchildren in the Tembo-Kabinda clan. My grandfather and grandmother were great farmers who provided us with abundant food, including delicious red kidney beans, corn or maize, 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 One Shilling or 12 pence or 10 cents during the year. My aunt aNyaMsuzghika 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, a large clay pot of water was boiling. From a small brightly colored aluminum foil packet, my aunt sprinkled half of some black dry floating substances never seen before. She then poured a whole three cents 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 Nya Mwaza Tendelu 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 a rather small piece of the 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 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 and in the afternoon watched traditional dances.
More than 64 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 the Third World today still celebrate Christmas by eating something special in the whole large family – often a cup of sweetened black tea and a slice of bread or a bun spread with a touch of margarine or sweet fruit jam.
So, during the Christmas day, never mind if you do not get any gifts at all. Be grateful to share these happy moments with family and friends, especially over a simple meal.