There is only one time of year, or more specifically, one single day on the calendar, that I can honestly say that I miss snow — and that is Christmas morning.
While this will be my third holiday spent in Tanzania, East Africa, I must admit that annually I wake up on the morning of the Dec. 25 with a twinge of surprise that the world is not adorned in a peaceful blanket of white.
When the festive season arrives, it is one that finds itself squarely situated in the beginning of the rainy season here. It is an odd year when there is not a heavy downpour in the middle of the afternoon and stranger still when the trees, grass and farms are in full array after the dusty months of the dry season.
However, the day itself is never a sombre affair of grey weather, but rather one that arrives at the outset of an annual time of hope and replenishment.
The days leading up to Christmas in Tanzania are a near universal time of struggle throughout all walks of life in the nation. There is a reason that the arrival of the rains means so much here and lends a special touch to the holiday season. They mark the beginning of the end of what locals refer to as the "hungry months" — the time furthest from the last harvest and before the outset of the new rains that allow for the fields to be sown.
I will forever find it disconcerting that this annual period of struggle in East Africa is squarely situated in a time of year I have always equated as a Canadian with abundance and the excessive eating of Nanaimo squares.
In Tanzania, the months preceding the holidays are ones wherein many family food stocks have mostly dwindled and the modest income from the previous crop has nearly been spent. Rather than watching the local shops flourish with Christmas gift buying, November and December are actually some of the slowest periods of the year for many businesses as the money in the local economy is just not there to be had.
The month of December comes as quietly as many others in Tanzania. There is little fanfare signalling the arrival of the holiday season save single strands of garland in several homes and the odd Christmas tree dotting occasional living rooms (so far I have seen one). It is a far cry from the bounteous holiday celebrations that seem to begin earlier and earlier each year in Canada. My mention of Christmas plans in early December are always met with stares as puzzled as those received from references to Santa Claus among the children.
Among Christians, Christmas Day itself begins at its first hour with midnight mass and the following day is for observance and celebration among loved ones (My Muslim friends have told me they like the holiday as it is a nice day off among family — but if they have a store, it stays open).
Gifts are typically new clothes for attendance to church services and the better portion of the day is dedicated to the preparation of a large meal.
As of Dec. 15, I had yet to see a single store promotion or holiday advertisement (although cards have begun to appear in the odd shop). The mention of the season has come only through church services which have begun their references through scripture.
While there is Boxing Day, it is more of a remnant that remains in a nation after post-colonial British rule. No blowout sales beginning at dawn or even a remote indication of long lines to return unsuitable gifts.
To be sure, the holiday here is unique in comparison to the Canadian experience; however, the core remains intact. It is a time for the gathering of family and friends.
Regardless of circumstance, the gift we have from our friends here is the simplicity of the essential elements of the season that doesn’t require two months of shopping or dipping into one’s life savings to celebrate fully. Is there really much more for which anyone could possibly ask?
From my friends and family in Tanzania to each and every soul in Westman — "Salamu za Heri kwa Krismasi na Baraka na Fanaka ya Mwaka Mpya!" (Swahili for "Greetings for Christmas and blessings and prosperity for the new year!")
» Josh Sebastian is from Brandon-Westman and is currently working on international development projects in Tanzania, East Africa.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 24, 2012