What does Christmas mean?

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THE sight of a tired and bedraggled Father Christmas dressed in his (by now well-worn) bespoke, red outfit trimmed in white (snow?), sweating from under his cotton wool beard in a Harare department store announcing: “Ho-ho-ho, wishing you a merry Christmas,” is not uncommon in our department stores during the festive season.
Albeit without the snow!
The other day in a well-known department store, the sight of a ‘black’ Father Christmas dressed in his well-worn costume, walking about the noisy store clanging his bell to announce the coming of Christmas time, attracted my attention.
All was well until my niece asked me a flurry of questions.
How old is Father Christmas?
Was there a Father Christmas when you were young?
Is he older than gogo?
Where does he come from?
Will he go kumusha to see gogo?
What also struck me of this non-benevolent exhausted looking Father Christmas was that he broke away from the tradition of giving away presents to children; instead he had a box to collect money for charity, or the staff?
Earlier in the year I wrote an article articulating the fact that Jesus Christ is an African, by virtue of being born in Africa.
For most of our childhood, we have known pictorial representations of the Nativity (the birth of Jesus Christ), of which the feast of Christmas is a commemoration.
The Nativity is also known as an artistic, pictorial or sculptural representation of the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ in Nazareth in Bethlehem, the Middle-East.
As with most pre-conceived images of Christ, the Nativity depicts a ‘white’ family, surrounded by snow, with the newly born, in a manger, as a blond infant,
The newly-born Nazarene is often depicted surrounded by shepherds, lambs and other domestic animals and three Wise Men or Kings from the East; all of swarthy complexion, who by following the Eastern Star (comet), arrived together bearing gifts for the infant Jesus.
Singing cherubs makes the picture complete!
These are the images that persist in one’s mind as we grow up — often even into our adulthood.
We sang Christmas carols and celebrated the birth of a white saviour.
What have these perennial images of a Western Christmas done to the impressionable minds of young African children?
Do they not ask who our Saviour is?
Is there only a white saviour?
The whole concept of Christmas has been geographically removed from its origins in Africa.
In some European countries, Christmas is known as Saint Nicholas Day, the legendary saint of children.
The Western traditional belief in Santa Claus, the white-bearded man commonly identified with Saint Nicholas, who is believed to reward children for good behaviour during the foregoing year by bringing Christmas gifts for them, all the way from the North Pole, riding on a reindeer-drawn sledge in freezing weather, on Christmas eve.
The visions of snow, tinsel, mistletoe and hollies; Santa Claus and his reindeers flying through the air on a cold, snowy, wintery night are endearing to the fertile minds of our children until the African sun thaws the snowflakes of our imagination.
From our colonial past, we have inherited the trappings and traditions of Christmas trees, Christmas carols, Christmas cards, Christmas crackers, Christmas cake, Christmas turkey and ham, Christmas pudding, Christmas pantomimes, mince pies, eggnog, tinsel streamers and sparkling stars and baubles as symbols and trappings of the season.
However, ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’, ‘The First Noel’, ‘I’m dreaming of a White Christmas’, ‘Jingle Bells’, ‘Silent Night’ and others, are Christmas carols that do not resonate with our memories.
In fact, they are far removed from the beliefs and environment of Africa.
The pioneering colonial settlers even left us with the renowned Christmas Pass – the pass which cuts through the Mutarandanda Hills, West of Mutare on the main road to Harare, in the Sekumva Valley.
It was named Christmas Pass by a small party of settlers who camped at the foot of the Pass on Christmas Day of 1890.
The sending and receiving of Christmas cards was a way of keeping in touch with family and friends living near or in far flung areas of the world.
This tradition has now been superseded by the electronic cyber world.
Does a post on facebook replace the joy and intimacy of receiving or sending a Christmas card from a friend or loved one?
Today, 36 years after independence, the Christmas festive season has come to mean many different things to many people.
While the idea of Christmas exists innately in the mind; for some it is the re-bonding of urban dwellers with their rural families back home.
For as long as memory serves, tilling the land and harvesting the first batch of pumpkins – manhanga/mapudzi, (squash) chibage, maize, (roasted or boiled corn-on-the-cob is a favourite), mbambayira and a variety of wild fruits and mushrooms is traditional fare for most Zimbabweans who annually flock to their rural homesteads to reconnect and re-bond with families and old friends, and make new acquaintances.
A few years ago, while I was in Berkley, San Francisco, during Christmas time, I learnt that many of the African-Americans celebrate Kwanzaa – a thanksgiving ceremony which has its roots and cultural associations with the mother continent of Africa.
I was quite amazed to see how much of our indigenous African culture was still intact in their memories.
The acculturation of Christmas brought about by colonialism in Zimbabwe is quite astonishing.
It has become one of the most persistent and permanent socio-cultural features in Christian Anglophone Africa, albeit understood and misconstrued from a purely Western idiom.
However, while we continue to (badly) emulate the Western world’s traditions of Christmas, we should challenge ourselves to promote our own indigenous traditions, ‘kutenda kupera kwegore’ with more than just roasted or boiled corn-on-the-cob, road-runners and rice.
It is time we developed our own Christmas symbols and traditions, for after all’ it’s a time of goodwill towards all mankind.
Merry Christmas and a flourishing New Year!
Dr Tony Monda holds a PhD in Art Theory and Philosophy and a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) and Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. He is a writer, lecturer, musician, art critic, practicing artist and corporate image consultant. He is also a specialist Art consultant, post-colonial scholar, Zimbabwean socio-economic analyst and researcher.
For views and comments, email: tonym.MONDA@gmail.com

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