Christmas in Kenya is a dramatically different experience than it is in the United States. Here, it remains largely a religious holiday, much as it was for the rest of the Christian world did before Charles Dickens convinced us to do otherwise. You’ll find tinsel and Santa Claus in some of the larger cities, but for most of us, the fanfare to which we’re so accustomed is conspicuously absent. In my village, the “beach boys” sometimes start going around wearing Santa hats, and the ambiance-building keyboard players at beachside bars start plinking out holiday tunes, but that’s about it. More’s the pity, too: the holiday itself does not mean much to me, given my beliefs (or total dearth thereof), but I always loved the pageantry. In America, I’d start blasting Christmas music right around Thanksgiving and before gleefully hanging an unrepentantly gaudy glitter wreath on my apartment door. Last year, right before I left my village for the holidays, I decorated my windows with fresh bouquets of bougainvillea. All of my neighbors laughed. “It’s too early!” my landlord cried between guffaws. “Maybe decorate just before your family comes, but now, Christmas is still far away!”

“IT’S DECEMBER 21st!” I countered indignantly, wrapping yarn around another bunch and dangling them above my kitchen area like mistletoe.

Of course, once they finished cackling over my quirky enthusiasm, all of my neighbors invited me to join their families for Christmas morning church services, followed by a hearty meal of ugali and freshly-slaughtered chicken. For them, it’s about the message, not the merriment. I was honored by their invitations, but had already made plans: I spent Christmas on a flawless white sand beach (“White Christmas” anybody?) with a crew of marvelous friends. Nothing says holiday cheer like sunburns and sand castles, right?


This year, I started celebrating on schedule: shortly after World AIDS Day, I pulled the box containing my official Charlie Brown Christmas Tree out from beneath the couch. It had been stashed there for some months, disturbed only by scores of roaches, spiders, and centipedes who had made it their cozy home. A few inquisitive neighborhood children hovered by my door, watching, and for once I invited them in to help me. Together, we assembled the tree and put it in a place of honor in my kitchen. Or rather … most of them just stared, while my little nine-year-old friend Talia actually assisted me. One of us carefully unpacked the box’s contents, while the other leapt about shrieking like a little girl at every creepy-crawly that was forced out of hiding. I’ll leave it to you to surmise which participant I was.

Njoo, njoo Emmanuel …

This year for Christmas/New Year’s, I’m taking a grand journey. No, really. Inshallah, it’s going to be epic (hopefully only in good ways.) I’m actually leaving in a few short days, so I not be able to blog again until after New Year’s. I’ll try, but no promises. Hopefully I’ll be too busy, right? You know, adventuring. I will tell you all about it when I return.

In the meantime, I leave you with the classic vocal stylings of John Lennon. Happy holidays, everyone.