Because corny headlines is my thing now…
20.12.2016 - 02.01.2017 28 °C
I celebrated Christmas 2016 by sitting eight hours in a bus, before eating a magnificent Christmas dinner of roasted chicken and French fries with ketchup. Honestly, I went to the finest restaurant in town – they even had tablecloth on the tables. I also ordered the most expensive item available from the menu (which was limited to fried chicken or fried fish, with either fries or rice). Why? Because I was stuck in a provincial town in eastern Côte d’Ivoire, waiting for a morning bus leaving early the next day.
On the upside, celebrating Christmas alone on the road could quickly become a very lonely affair. Now it felt no less alone than a regular day of travelling. Back home, Christmas stuff begin to appear everywhere at the beginning of November. Constant reminders that this is the season of friends and families (because we apparently need a special season for that) makes December a shitty time to be alone on. Then again, on the road I’ve had none of the usual stress about gifts, family visits, a calendar packed with snaps and Christmas dinners or any of the cold, dark weather. Actually, having had no Christmas season this year have been rather nice.
Especially because there has been none of that commercialised Christmas crap. I’ve been roaming around in provincial Côte d’Ivoire, which has none of that. Throughout all of December, I’ve seen almost no signs of Christmas. My first Christmas spotting was on December 20 when a large metal Christmas tree was standing in front of the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Paix in Yamoussoukro.
Since then I’ve seen all of two plastic Christmas trees, three shops that had some Christmas decorations and two (two!) people were wearing Christmas hats. Though one bank employee wore a Santa tie. But that was it. That was all. No reminders that we were hitting the holiday season. No cold weather – the temperature only drops under 25 degrees centigrade if I walk into a room with air condition. Christmas isn’t around – despite having spent much of December in the prominently Christian regions.
This changed a bit when I arrived in Abidjan, the largest city in the country, on December 25. Abidjan is the commercial capital of Côte d’Ivoire, so – no surprise – things are a bit more commercialised here. Plenty of Western-orientated or -inspired places looked more “ready” for the holidays, and more people were running around in Christmas hats. But it wasn’t before sitting in the lobby of a big hotel in Accra, Ghana, that I heard the first Christmas music. On January 2nd! I have even made it through the holidays without being Wham’ed!
So no, in case any of you wondered, travelling in Africa during the Christmas season has not been more lonely, unbearable or sad, that travelling alone through Africa at any other time. Not at all, actually. Down here, friends and family are attended to constantly. They don’t need a particular month for that. Though people I met had taken a walk around with their friends to visit each others’ families – a pretty common Christmas tradition. Other than that, people here are pretty like at home. They spend most of their holiday with friends and do a lot of drinking.
To be honest, the lack of Christmas actually surprised me (once I finally figured out it was mid-December), because so many people are so massively religious. Most of the first few drafts of this blog post were mainly centred around religion, but as I have only negative things to say about the subject it quickly turned into a rather bitter read. So I scrapped it and started over.
Sure they do special services on Christmas, but the churches are often full no matter what. And many places have services not every week, but every day. In some cities, it seems like every second building is a church, and every second billboard is certainly branding one kind of congregation or another. People here should be thrilled that Christianity has stolen a number of pagan rituals and turned them into the make-believe birthday of their bronze age, born-of-a-virgin, zombie god.
But as mentioned that’s not the case at all. Despite being such a religious part of the world, Christmas doesn’t really seem to be celebrated much here in West Africa. At least not in a way that’s recognisable to my eye. My common sense reasoning has three solutions for this:
- The Pagan traditions were stolen to form Christmas celebrations come from Europe, not West Africa.
- “African Christmas” is not commercialised the way "Western Christmas" is back home.
- Christmas is expensive, and large scale celebrations are out of reach for many families.
As for the last reason, Christmas in we West is so much about the money. That might very well be why I don’t usually enjoy it. As a student and/or someone trying to save his money to go travel, I don’t appreciate how expensive December has become. In conclusion: Everyone who’s tired of the over-commercialised December holiday were an invisible sky man's son, which is actually himself, is celebrated should spend their December budget on going to West Africa and rid themselves of all that silly and expensive nonsense.
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