News from Rwanda

Christmas in the Land of Eternal Spring

Rwanda - the Land of Eternal SpringThey do not call Rwanda the Land of Eternal Spring for nothing! Everything is always green everywhere in this country. Even the temperature is constantly balanced at an almost ideal 27 degrees. Okay, we do “freeze” a little bit at a “cold” 18 degrees during the night, and we do have to live with heavy rainfall lasting one hour each day for two months a year. But at Christmas Rwanda is truly heaven!

And I am by no means exaggerating. Not even all the tragedies which have struck the local inhabitants in the last several decades can change the festive atmosphere in my parishioners during this most celebrated Catholic holiday.

Christmas in Rwanda is a great celebration. All families come together again, without exception. Everyone who left their native homes to go to other places - to towns, as well as to other countries - in search of a livelihood, come back to their parents, brothers and sisters to celebrate with them the birth of Christ.

Isn't she beautifulCunning shopkeepers take advantage of this time of year, increasing the prices of anything and everything several times over. These merchants are well aware that in Rwanda, during Christmas holidays, clothes and shoes are bought in large numbers, and even the food people prepare is better. They know very well that the children, in this time of Christmas, get rid of their old and worn out rags and everyone tries to come to the Holy and Sacred Christmas Mass wearing new clothes. Considering that most of my parishioners can barely afford three meals a week ---- a week, and not a day!!! --- I ask myself how they manage to find the means to renew their wardrobe. Some of them come to the mass even wearing a hat. The real one – a cylinder! And in this way, at least for a short time, they can demonstrate their power and wealth to everyone...

Houses are filled with rice, potatoes, beer, banana schnapps, sodas, sugar, and bread and, even - in a very symbolic amount – meat. This is so different from neighbouring Uganda, where meat on a Christmas table is obligatory! However, Rwanda is a very poor country, and people spend as much as they can afford. So they use Christmas and gathering of the entire family for a double celebration.  At Christmas, almost all my parishioners want to baptise their children, not only because it is cheaper to have two celebrations at one time, but also because of the festiveness of the date.

People sing and danceAt Christmas time, when the villages are normally so full of life, you cannot find anyone in village streets.  Everyone is in their homes, around the fire, narrating the adventures they have had since their last meeting together. Lunch lasts late into the afternoon, as it is a privilege to listen to a brother or a sister talk about their experiences from the city. And it is their only opportunity to imagine life in the city – if only through someone’s tales. My parish is about 50 km distant from the capital city Kigali, and most of my parishioners have never even been there. A few days ago I took the teachers form our trade school for a prize trip to nearby Burundi. Leaving the village was such an amazing event for them – one that they will talk about for years to come!

The Mass celebration of the birth of Christ begins on Christmas Eve at about 4 p.m. and lasts for five hours! The church is far too small to accommodate all the parishioners - several thousand of them do manage to squeeze inside - but an even larger number of them stand outside the church. People sing and dance with drummers continuously providing rhythm... And there are many discussions regarding whose nativity scene is more beautiful. They are made from clay or cut in wood or even cut and glued from banana skin. How beautiful! And in Rwanda people do not decorate Christmas trees, but everyone puts huge banana leaves on the house door to mark this most festive season.

This truly is a Land of Eternal Spring and Christmas time is a wonderful time of celebration and a time of hope for a better future.