Sunday, January 1, 2017

Local Christmas Traditions

I got an email from a friend asking me how the Congolese Christians typically celebrate the Christmas holiday compared to non-Christian Congolese. I thought that was a great question! There are things that I have noticed but I wanted to get my answers from others with more knowledge than myself (actual Congolese people). What I learned from talking to the people I spoke to was something worth sharing.

The Congolese love to celebrate and they do a great job of it! A wedding reception has been known to last all night long and into the next day, a birthday party can go on for hours, and Christmas is no exception. Many churches offer a Christmas Eve celebration to begin the holiday while others will wait until sunrise on Christmas Day. But all churches put on a production (much bigger than a play) of the nativity. Adults and children have roles and will quote directly from the Bible their scenes. The production will have songs and dancing and some places will have a few animals. The performance typically goes on for a few hours.

After the performance, the churches will offer snacks so that everyone can stay around and fellowship. Typical treats are "petite gateau" (little muffins), peanuts, and a soda. Everyone takes advantage of this because for some, this is their only meal. People will share and chat until the food is gone and will stay around a little more before heading home.

When gifts are given, it is typically a new outfit to wear to church. Those who have a bit more money will give gifts of cloth to people outside their immediate family (to aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.), small trinkets for their kids (hand folded fans, stuffed animals, balloons, etc.), or cash. But usually no gifts are exchanged. It is imperative you dress your best no matter.

Once fellowship is over, people will begin heading home to their neighborhoods. People will cook all the food they have at home and then share with their neighbors. Those who live in larger private homes (with fences/walls) will usually only serve their own family or have gatherings with friends and extended family. People who have more money will buy meat - this is the second largest purchase around the holidays after cloth. It is important to have meat to celebrate and people are not picky about the type as long as it is served.

I enjoyed hearing all the traditions and asked how non-Christians celebrated. I was told pagans do not celebrate Christmas but prefer to celebrate and party at New Years. I asked if atheists celebrated any Christmas traditions and I was corrected - "pagans" do not celebrate the holiday. It was then that I was reminded that the Congolese are so closely tied to their tribalism and village history that the idea of no gods does not exist. The spiritual world is very active here and the thought of someone who doesn't believe in any supreme being is quite odd. While the word "athée" exists in the French language, the context does not translate here. You either believe in multiple gods - the spirits of your ancestors which must be appeased to avoid being cursed, or you believe in the one God. Or in many cases, you believe in both! Many have a hard time shaking the old ways, and still act in fear, even when celebrating the birth of the Savior. That's just one of the many reasons we are here, to help spread the good news about the birth of Christ and that because of Him and the Holy Spirit whom He sent, we no longer are bound to anything but Him! Grace and Peace and Happy celebrations to you this holiday season!

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