The Night Before Christmas |
An African Christmas Story
It was the night before Christmas and I was very sad because my family
life had been severely disrupted and I was sure that Christmas would
never come. There was none of the usual joy and anticipation that I
always felt during the Christmas season. I was eight years old but in
the past few months I had grown a great deal.
Before this year, I thought Christmas in my village came with many
things. Christmas had always been for me one of the joyous religious
festivals. It was the time for beautiful Christmas music on the
streets, on radio, television, and every where. Christmas had always
been a religious celebration and the church started preparing way back
in November. We really felt that we were preparing for the birth of
the baby Jesus.
Christmas was the time when relatives and friends visited each other
so there were always people traveling and visiting with great joy from
all the different tribes. I always thought that was all Christmas was.
Oh, how I wished I had some of the traditional food consumed at the
Christmas Eve dinner and the Christmas Day dinner, I knew I could not
taste the rice, chicken, goat, lamb, and fruits of various kinds. The
houses were always decorated with beautiful paper ornaments. The
children and all the young people loved to make and decorate their
homes and schools with colorful crepe paper.
All of us looked forward to the Christmas Eve Service at our church.
After the service there would be a joyous procession through the
streets. Everyone would be in a gala mood with local musicians in a
Mardi Gras mood. Then on Christmas Day we all went back to church to
read the scriptures and sing carols to remind us of the meaning of the
blessed birth of the baby Jesus. We always thought that these were the
things that meant Christmas.
After the Christmas service young people received gifts of special
chocolate, special cookies, and special crackers. Young people were
told that the gifts come from Father Christmas, and this always meant
Christmas for us. They also received new clothes and perhaps new pairs
of shoes. Meanwhile throughout the celebration, everyone was greeted
with the special greeting word, “Afishapa” meaning Merry Christmas and
Happy New Year.
Oh how I wish that those memories were real tonight in order to bring
us Christmas. However, this Christmas Eve things were different and I
knew Christmas would never come. Every one was sad and desperate
because of what happened last April when the so-called Army of
Liberation attacked our village and took all the young boys and girls
Families were separated and some were murdered. We were forced to
march and work for many miles without food. We were often hungry and
we were given very little food. There was very little food. The
soldiers burned everything in our village and during our forced march
we lost all sense of time and place.
Miraculously we were able to get away from the soldiers during one
rainy night. After several weeks in the tropical forest we made our
way back to our burned out village. Most of us were sick, exhausted,
and depressed. Most of the members of our families were no where to be
found. We had no idea what day or time it was.
This was the situation until my sick grandmother noticed the reddish
and yellow flower we call, “Fire on the Mountain,” blooming in the
middle of the marketplace where the tree had stood for generations and
had bloomed for generations at Christmas time. For some reason it had
survived the fire that had engulfed the marketplace. I remembered how
the nectar from this beautiful flower had always attracted insects
making them drowsy enough to fall to the ground to become food for
crows and lizards. We were surprised that the fire the soldiers
started to burn the marketplace and the village did not destroy the
“Fire on the Mountain” tree. What a miracle it was.
Grandmother told us that it was almost Christmas because the flower
was blooming. As far as she could remember this only occurred at
Christmas time. My spirits were lifted perhaps for a few minutes as I
saw the flower. Soon I became sad again. How could Christmas come
without my parents and my village?
How could this be Christmas time when we celebrate the birth of the
Prince of Peace, because since April we have not known any peace, only
war and suffering. How could we celebrate as grandmother instructed us
to do before she died. Those were the last words she spoke before she
died last night.
As I continued to think about past joyous Christmases and the present
suffering, we heard the horn of a car and not just one horn but
several cars approaching our village. At first we thought they were
cars full of men with machine guns so we hid in the forest. To our
surprise they were not and they did not have guns. They were just
ordinary travelers. It seemed the bridge over the river near our
village had been destroyed last April as the soldiers left our
village. Since it was almost dusk and there were rumors that there
were land mines on the roads, they did not want to take any chances.
Their detour had led them straight to our village.
When they saw us they were shocked and horrified at the suffering and
the devastation all around us. Many of these travelers began to cry.
They confirmed that tonight was really Christmas Eve. All of them were
on their way to their villages to celebrate Christmas with family and
friends. Now circumstances had brought them to our village at this
time on this night before Christmas. They shared the little food they
had with us. They even helped us to build a fire in the center of the
marketplace to keep us warm.
In the middle of all this, my sister became ill and could not stand
up. A short time after we returned to our village my grandmother told
me that my oldest sister was expecting a baby. My sister had been in a
state of shock and speechless since we all escaped from the soldiers.
I was so afraid for my sister because we did not have any medical
supplies and we were not near a hospital. Some of the travelers and
the villagers removed their shirts and clothes to make a bed for my
sister to lie near the fire we had made. On that fateful night my
sister gave birth to a beautiful baby boy.
This called for a celebration, war or no war, Africans have to dance
and we celebrated until the rooster crowed at 6 a.m. We sang Christmas
songs. Every one sang in his or her own language. For the first time
all the pain and agony of the past few months escaped.
When morning finally came my sister was asked, “What are you going to
name the baby”? Would you believe for the first time since our village
was burned and all the young girls and boys were taken away, she
spoke. She said, “His name is Gye Nyame, which means except God I fear
And so we celebrated Christmas that night. Christmas really did come
to our village that night, but it did not come in the cars or with the
travelers. It came in the birth of my nephew in the midst of our
suffering. We saw hope in what this little child could do. This birth
turned out to be the universal story of how bad things turned into
universal hope, the hope we found in the Baby Jesus. A miracle
occurred that night before Christmas and all of a sudden I knew we
were not alone any more. Now I knew there was hope and I had learned
that Christmas comes in spite of all circumstances. Christmas is
always within us all. Christmas came even to our village that night.