The weirdest xmas I ever had was in Kigali, Rwanda back in the 1990’s. We were working in the area at the time with the Australian Contingent of forces that had been deployed to keep the peace following the Hutu/Tutsi conflict of the same period.
We had been invited to a xmas function with an Australian Army contingent based smack bang in the middle of the countries capital Kigali. The Australian Army and the Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA) were literally across the road from each other. In an already tense security situation, any celebratory times in the year that are high profile and cause attention always lead to a rise in security concerns, with people being unable to predict was going to occur.
This particular evening, we had had a big Aussie xmas feast, totally out of place in the middle of deepest darkest Africa but delicious none the less. There were Aussie soldiers on high alert as security was dodgy at the best of times. As it was approaching midnight there was a feeling of tenseness building in the air. Right on midnight, quite literally and unbeknown to us the RPA soldiers in the compound across from the Aussies decided it was the perfect time to all shoot their AK47’s into the air at approximately the same time in very close proximity.
After the ensuing chaos that erupted it become clear that the fire was friendly and merely a xmas custom that we had no way to know about beforehand.
Xmas customs like this one fascinate, motivate and disturb me all at the same time. It is fascinating that many people have such a strong connection to this day and that for many others it comes and goes and holds no kind of importance whatsoever. It is fascinating to me that you can be in another country and at xmas people look after you and treat you as family, because they want to.
It is motivating in the sense that the whole period of time people are often connecting with families, thinking about the year past and swearing to do it so differently the next year. It is often the time of the year when we connect with people that we may have not too much to do with across the rest of the year. It is also motivating in the sense that we want all of our business dealt with before Christmas, appointments and job and services all become somehow life or death issues in the month leading up to xmas.
It’s disturbing that the day and our emotional or spiritual attachment to it can cause so much division among people. It is disturbing the amount of mindless consumption that we can engage in at xmas. From unused, unwanted or just not right presents to more food in a 24-hour period than we often consume in a week in other circumstances. It is disturbing too see how much money that people don’t have that is spent at Christmas.
The challenge for our family for this year’s Christmas it to be authentic. If we don’t need it or wouldn’t benefit from it in some way, we are not buying it. The delicious food that we eat is equally delicious when you have one serve instead of three, when we say to our families “we should catch up more” we are actually going to plan times to do this. And most importantly we are not going to leave it to once in the year to tell our friends and family we appreciate them. To me, that is Being More Human at Xmas.