Spare the piggy bank, but enjoy Christmas cheer

Cooperative Bank piggy banks for children. [Patrick Vidija, Standard]

Kenyans head into Christmas after a tough year marked by economic challenges. Mercifully, it has been a good year on the farms after years of drought, which, coupled with Covid-19 and the Russia-Ukraine war, pushed the country to the brink of food distress.

Images of bony children in the north and skeletons of livestock were splashed on the front pages of the main dailies and on TV.

That, however, changed when the long rains came, and Kenyans, with cheaper fertiliser courtesy of the government, harvested more than 62 million bags of maize. The high inflation, however, and the depressed shilling against the dollar, which have seen the cost of living shoot through the roof, mean that despite the bumper harvest, the high cost of living has put a damper on a time when Kenyans ordinarily splurge on new cars, lavish parties and copious goodies for friends and family. Besides, Njaanuary, which feels like three months, waits around the corner like a hungry lion.

In my view, there is no need to break the piggy bank to celebrate a foreign idea dating back to the Victorian times, but which has been hijacked by capitalist forces and people living beyond their means.

The Christmas we know today took shape when the rowdier pagan celebrations of earlier periods were toned down into a quieter family-focused festival. Queen Victoria and her beloved Albert, with their nine children, played a big part in these changes. The Christmas trees Albert popularised from his native Germany in 1840 rapidly caught on, as did decking them with lights and presents, by now given on Christmas Day itself.

Victorian children’s presents were usually quite modest, such as sweets, nuts, or oranges, not the cars, jewellery, and other expensive toys East African ‘celebs’ post on Facebook and which drive their fans to near depression. Some, I’m told, are not actual gifts but well-planned photo-ops. Boxing days was when servants would open boxes to see their tips, not a day to do the ‘walk of shame’ back home, as going home from the bar early the next day is called in Nairobi.

The reason they ate turkey and Christmas pudding, as they lit the Christmas crackers, is that they had no chickens, or ingokho as it is called in Western. Or the goats and cows that many have massacred for this festive season, more than two centuries after the advent of Santa Claus and reindeer sleigh.

In early America, Christmas was declared a federal holiday by President Ulysses Grant in 1870, mainly to unite the nation after the Civil War. I do not know what Kenyans want to unite by drinking like the world is ending.

It found its way to Kenya and Africa through colonialism. Frederick Lugard arrived in Kenya in 1792 and signed pacts with leaders such as Muthamaki Waiyaki wa Hinga. These leaders did not expect that the warmth these visitors exuded was a Trojan horse for the colonial atrocities that followed. Of course, long before it found its way into Kenya, Christmas had become so commercialised that today, some spend more during the Christmas period than the rest of the year combined. That said, have a Meeeerry Christmas.

The writer comments on topical issues