Uganda has an interesting mix of traditions when it comes to their holiday celebrations. As the country develops economically the Christmas traditions begin to move more towards the Western customs seen in European countries and America. There are still plenty of differences though, as Ugandan culture creates a truly unique celebration of the holiday.
There are actually two ways of celebrating Christmas in Uganda depending on where you live. People who tend to dwell in cities often hold a large meal together with their families in someone’s home. They cook a huge quantity of food with an emphasis on meat, which can be a rare treat for some. Christmas is also a time for religious contemplation. On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, depending on the denomination, people flock to their churches for Christmas sermons. Even those people that do not normally attend church during the rest of the year often attend church during this time of the year. Outside of the cities, in the villages of the countryside, Christmas is a much more social event. The community comes together and will often butcher a whole goat for a large feast. People travel around wishing everyone in their community a good Christmas. In fact not visiting others in the village during the holidays is considered improper and down right rude. Food is shared, games are played, and a good time is had by all. It is also not uncommon for families to travel to other villages during this time of the year, to visit their family in different places. Many people who live and work in the cities will return to their home community for the celebration.
There are two traditions that Uganda shares with many other cultures that celebrate Christmas. One is the Christmas tree, which surprisingly is a similar species of pinetree that is found in European countries. Although Christmas trees are common sights in Ugandan homes they decorate them differently. In the past people didn’t typically use lights on their trees, instead they would cover them in wool, cotton, and other white materials to mimic snow. They would also wrap toilet paper, in hues of green, pink, and blue, around the tree for decoration. This has changed somewhat as the pinetree typically used for decoration has become endangered by the enterprise and the advent of the fabricated tree has become more popular. The new false trees generally come pre-decorated with lights so that has become the new tradition of decoration.
Another shared tradition between Uganda and the rest of the world is the consumption of large, grandiose feasts with friends and family, though the dishes will probably be unfamiliar to most outside of the country. The staple of the meals tends to be meat, with goat being a popular option due to its plentiful and relatively inexpensive nature. There are also some traditional dishes served such as Matooke, a traditional dish of cooked banana mash, and Chapatti, a type of flat bread. Traditionally everyone eats together in a big communal meal.
Gift giving is also a big part of the holiday season. New clothes tend to be the traditional gifts that are given, especially in the villages where people may have less money. New shoes and socks are a common Christmas gift for children. It is also customary for a husband to give a Gomesi, a traditional dress, to his wife. So much so that if he doesn’t there is going to be trouble.
Ugandan Christmas may be very different from Sweden’s, but it has the most important elements of the Holiday. Love for your friends and family and good-will to all others.
/ Robert Brewster Skribent