Christmas encourages the spirit of sharing An African immigrant contemplates Christmas traditions

Christmas is celebrated around the world in many different ways. Now that I’ve been in Canada for four Christmases, I understand Christmas as a good spirit that affects everyone.

I am a Rwandese woman, an immigrant who is enjoying every holiday in Canada. Thanksgiving and Remembrance Day are fairly new to me, but when it comes to Christmas, my home country and Canada share some traditions.

In Rwanda, Christians celebrate Jesus’ birth by going to church in the morning. After church, we eat with family and friends. There is no special dish for Christmas. Every family cooks their favourite food. Mine was always matoke, a cooked green banana. We ate it with fried rice and chicken. This was a special meal for my family.

We don’t go around singing Christmas carols like some people do here, but we do have one unique custom. In Rwanda, at noon on Christmas Day, everybody listens to the radio waiting to hear baby Jesus cry. Every radio station plays a baby’s voice crying and relates it to baby Jesus, who was born that day.  

My first Christmas in Canada, I was staying with a Canadian family. I was excited to see how another culture celebrated Christmas.

First, we woke up and opened presents under the tree. Then we had breakfast together. In Rwanda, we don’t give gifts on Christmas Day. I enjoyed my first Christmas gifts in Canada immensely!

In terms of celebrating Christmas in other African countries, I quizzed a classmate at Concordia University of Edmonton. Thoriso Mahlatsi is a second-year international student from South Africa, where Christmas traditions are not that different from Canada or Rwanda.

“There are no special dishes that we cook for Christmas in South Africa,” Thoriso shared. “In my family, we celebrate in a different family home each year. First it may take place at my family, next at my uncle’s, and then at my grandparents. The weather in December is sunny, and we all celebrate together.”  

This year, Thoriso may stay in Canada for the first time. “I’m not sure if I am going home this December. I may celebrate it with my dad’s friends here in Canada. It will be another good adventure for me.”

Talking to Thoriso, I realized some African countries have a similar way of celebrating Christmas. The way Thoriso described South Africa sounded like Rwanda.

Last year, I went to see the play A Christmas Carol at the Citadel Theatre with a friend. For many in the city, seeing this play is a tradition with its story of Scrooge, a greedy man who is transformed into a good man through the power of Christmas.

December is a special month because of Christmas. People give gifts to each other and share meals. I see kindness everywhere. Why do we have to wait for Christmas to be kind to others? I sense the spirit of love, generosity, and kindness. I wish we could live Christmas every day.

Merry Christmas to you and your family. Please make it a December to remember.

Featured Image: African countries like Rwanda or South Africa celebrate Christmas in similar ways to Canada. | Constance Brissenden

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