It is the 15th of December today and there are just a few more nights to Christmas (X-mas for some). The holiday season is in full swing and like most of you, I am looking forward to some well-deserved relaxation.
Unlike the Hallmark movies we watch on TV where Christmas is represented by snowflakes, mistletoe, eggnog, carols, and Christmas trees, for most Africans, this is the time of year we look to return Home. It is the time of year for the highly anticipated return home from the economic nomadism that keeps us away from friends and family for most of the year.
In South Africa where I live, ports of exit out of the big cities, such as Park Station are full of buses and taxis leaving Johannesburg, heading in all directions. To Durban and other interior towns of Kwa Zulu Natal as well as every other direction in the country, and far beyond the borders. Buses from Cape Town are headed out to the Eastern Cape. The Beit Bridge border out of South Africa is choked with cars and buses full of workers and their families, headed out to Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, some even as far as the DRC.
The airport gates of Heathrow, Gatwick, JFK, and the like are filling up with citizens and visitors alike, flocking to Ghana, Nigeria, and other parts of West Africa for the “Detty December” experience. Pubs, clubs, concerts, and other social arenas are packed, from Harare to Lusaka, Maputo to Blantyre, and far beyond. There is music, dancing and drinks shared as old friends catch up with each other out and about the town.
Across Nigeria, people head home. Infamously the Igbo families are headed to rural homes for the beautiful annual family reunions in Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo state.
It is hot. Families at homes in smaller towns and villages are eagerly awaiting the arrival of relatives from towns and cities far away. The “rich aunties” are home from the UK. The Makoti’s are home. The stokvels are paying out. Laughs can be heard around the Braii (Barbeque). People are arriving home with loads of groceries and goodies for everyone. Kids are looking forward to wearing their new clothes, shoes, watches and glasses for Christmas church services. An uncle we all hadn’t seen in years has just made it home. Conversations with uncles, aunts, parents, grandparents, and cousins carry on. Joyous laughter and cheerful banter can be heard across the way.
In South Africa, the “groove is grooving” to the sounds of amapiano. The December weddings are happening this weekend. The beaches in Durban, Accra, Mombasa, and all over the coasts of Africa are starting to fill up.
This year marks the second December since the global outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. For many, things have changed a lot since the last pre-pandemic Christmas, December 2019. Many have lost jobs and simply cannot afford the bus ticket to get home. For those who can put together the bus or flight ticket costs, there are new additional costs and restrictions to traveling home which has made the trip less accessible (COVID-19 tests cost as much as USD 150 to cross into some countries, Quarantine requirements which will cost heavily on money and time, vaccine hesitancy and availability issues, travel bans which cast uncertainty on returning to countries of work if one leaves to visit your home country, and the general uncertainties of the newly identified Omicron variant).
This leaves many in a situation not so different from last December before the global vaccine rollout had begun – unable to spend these holidays with friends and family at home. The politics of vaccine apartheid towards the global south notwithstanding, the vaccine rollout and built-up population immunity from natural infections give us hope.
For many, this December will again be spent away from loved ones, longing for the comforts and sweet memories of home and an African Christmas. For anyone far from loved ones this December, let us hold onto our priceless memories, make those calls, send those messages, look back in gratitude for getting through this year with our health despite its challenges, and look forward with optimism to making more beautiful African Christmas memories in the future.
Let us take a moment to remember those who were with us last Christmas, who did not make it to this Christmas. Let us brighten the corners where we find ourselves, and share ubuntu, love, and kindness, wherever we are these holidays. And for those enjoying Christmas at home with friends and family, enjoy and cherish every moment of it.