Christmas and New Year in Tongogara

By Stephen Pech Gai
Stephen Pech Gai's stories

Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Tongogara start with excitement and breathtaking scenery. Churches are freshly painted, streets are tidy, shops display colorful Christmas trees, and homes are made to look elegant and stylish.

The days leading up to the twin celebration are exceptional, the market bustles and is filled with various goods—even shops that were generally empty sell some items in December. The weather is cloudy and dry air with a stale smell hover through the Camp. There is a recent increase in population with many new faces as schools closed, and with those seeking work having returned home to spend the holiday with their loved ones. Request for Christmas gifts also become more common, even from unfamiliar friends.

Christmas and the New Year celebration have taken the tune of two generations in the contemporary world. Children formed a jamboree of vagabonds walking the streets in extensive locomotion and commotion while adults take to their homes while some turn to the churches to prepare for the rituals. No doubt, this season is the perfect occasion for love and unity. One would think of a wedding, birthday party, sport, or any other public celebration knit together but still, the joy and euphoria connecting all hearts won’t suffice the birth of Christ and a Passover over to New Year.

The Camp is teeming with activities; from tournaments and matches to various artistic works lasting from dawn to sunset. Children ignite crackling fireworks as they wander around in large groups. During the evening hours, they ignite the matches from the eastern side of the Camp, an open place at the bus terminal surrounded by shops, and then they move toward the west on the largest street edged by shops on both sides. This is where they spend the daily celebration from Christmas day to New Year’s Day. Their celebration lasts well into the night.

The highway can’t be passed at that time. Cars, motorcycles, and bicycles, even pedestrians who wish to continue their journey don’t dare to push through. The sound—not only of fireworks but of loudspeakers connected to digital gadgets, football sirens, plastic trumpets, the cheering sound of children, the beating on nickel and tins, and the buzzing sound of Jerrycan— are deafening as they fill the evening air.

After the children received their gifts from the grown-ups during the day, in what they commonly referred to as Christmas Box, they share their gifts of sweets, drinks, and balloons, bundles of fireworks with those less fortunate. There’s no age limit to Christmas gift-giving, with gifts ranging from small treats from children to bundles of fireworks from adults. It can be a promise waiting to be delivered on New Year’s Day, or a word of sympathy and understanding during difficult times. This is a time of generosity, love, and care. It is the time to showcase the values of belonging to one community, a time that everyone would wish to continue throughout the year.

Tongogara is also home to young celebrities; it is filled with diverse fine arts. The Camp has raised musicians, great dancers, and young people engaged in modeling. Girls, boys, and couples dressed in African attires go for an outing at the orchards of Tongogara garden next to the game park, where flamboyant gum trees and similar to jacaranda trees reach high into the sky. The environment is green, beautifully colored by a tree strikingly similar to a Jacaranda with reddish flowers and shiny wood. A slight breeze of autumn in the festive season passes, and it makes your skin vibrate with joy.

Most of the girls are braided in Afro, cornrows, passion twist, or ponytails for simplicity. Their skins gleam with powder, and their lips are coated in a purple gloss. They walk in different gaits; high heels, while holding their handbags. Boys are perfectly outfitted too; with various hairstyles they meet up in the gorgeous Tongogara garden. The main way to get there is by passing the bus terminal through the Community Hall, and then by following a road that curves to the east-west, passes the ICT Youth Centre, and then opens up to reveal that incredible lawn that brings grace to many events at the Camp.

The saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder is ridiculous to photographers who weld their camera lenses to every vivacious well-dressed body: everybody looks gorgeous here. The rates of the photographers have gone up. Two photos cost a dollar, whereas before they cost a dollar per three. It is a business created by demand and supply. They use top-notch cameras in a place where iPhones are rare, to fulfil the need for beautiful photos during Christmas and New Year celebrations.

The festive season is very traditional. People from different countries and cultures bring their traditional foods to welcome the new season. Congolese cook Sadza, commonly known as mealie-mealie or maize cone. The stew is either Sombe, dried fish, or meat. South Sudanese have their stable food, Kisra: a thin layer of a fermented mixture of cone maize or sorghum spread over a heated flat pan. It looks like chapatti or Ethiopian Injera but is very light and thin. It can be eaten with meat and okra, fish and okra, or meat and fish without any kind of vegetable.

During the evening, neighbors or friends are invited for a meal, a dance, or to play games. The Burundian and the Rwandan community’s cultural troupe beat the camp. They amassed a huge audience. Young women and men crop up with slumping feet, tired in a loop of rattles. The dance is a dramatic movement, heavy with moving bodies, and arms forming the shape of cow horns above their heads.

During the Christmas and New Year seasons, a stack of cards is distributed among the young people, who write messages on them for their friends wishing them a refreshed new life in good health, success, luck, and a revived friendship. Their WhatsApp statuses are dominated by New Year and Christmas messages of hope, love, and prosperity. Families receive extraordinary gifts like cakes, baked cookies, or other significant gifts.

It is a season of the feast, a season of want and plenty. Friends are invited to share a meal, drink together, and share the stories of love and laughter. It is an occasion that brings all the diverse communities of Tongogara together, fusing them into one gorgeous, colorful ball of love, care, generosity, and unity and peace.

1 February, 2023