Santa, Sinterklaas, Father Christmas or St Nicholas, the reasons may be myriad, but the merriment is the same. Nishitha Shrivastava speaks with some expats about perpetuating traditions away from their home country
Jackie Mullard (British)
Mince pies and mistletoe
What makes an English Christmas? Cold, wet and foggy weather! Since we don’t have much of that in Uganda, we find other ways to create the spirit.
Advent calendars for children, Christmas trees from a National Forestry Authority nursery, wreaths of holly and ivy on doors, hanging Christmas cards on ribbons, are just a few.
Traditionally, families go carol singing. Though this doesn’t happen in Uganda, here are a host of concerts in the run-up to Christmas, carols by candlelight, most majestically in Namirembe Cathedral. We are lucky enough to have our own traditional candlelit service of nine lessons and carols, organised by the British Residents Association
Food for Christmas day is no problem here with the turkey, ham, sausages, bacon, stuffing etc – all available from Rosa Butchers or Quality Cuts; Indian supermarkets even import cranberry sauce. And, to my horror, and my husband’s delight, Shoprite now imports Brussels sprouts, the obligatory accompaniment to the turkey, along with roast potatoes, sweet potatoes (an addition in Uganda to replace the parsnips which we can’t get), and red cabbage cooked with apples, onions and spices.
Lunch is followed by Christmas pudding, eaten with brandy butter, mince pies etc. Everyone hunts for the coins (boiled and wrapped in tinfoil) pushed into the Christmas pudding – it’s good luck to find one in your piece! The pudding is decorated with hibiscus (the Ugandan alternative to holly!) and then doused in brandy, which is set alight.
Shoprite, particularly, now imports a vast amount of Christmas goodies. However, my first Christmases overseas were spent in countries where none of this was available, so I made everything from scratch. Mince pie, a traditional sweet pastry, has a necessary ingredient – suet, which is the hard fat from around the kidneys of beef and sheep. Now, even though it’s not available in Uganda, I bring boxed supplies from the UK in order to make about 200 mince pies every year!!
Brits all over the world will crowd round their televisions to watch the Queen’s speech broadcast to the Nation at 3pm GMT!
We have traded the traditional hot mulled wine for sangria in the heat of Uganda, while we open our presents.
But the thing I miss most is holly and mistletoe – neither of them available in Uganda for decorating your house (and parsnips to eat with the turkey).
Charlotta Sandin (Swede)
Of dark nights and Lucia lights
Swedish Christmas abroad usually starts with Lucia, on December 13. Children dress in long white dresses, put lights in their hair, sing Christmas carols and offer saffron buns and gingerbread cookies. In Sweden, this is supposed to happen in the morning in every public institution, work places and wherever people are gathered before sunrise. In Kampala, the former Swedish Ambassador Urban Andersson used to organize a Lucia evening at his residence, which was highly appreciated. Long-time Ugandan resident, Swedish citizen and music teacher Jeanette prepares Swedish children weeks in advance, since Swedish expat children, normally, have a very sketchy idea of what Lucia songs sound like. She does a great job though and the adult choir is amazingly authentic and the dark and chilly evening together with the flavour of sweetened and spiced red wine (glogg) recreates the Lucia atmosphere needed to start Christmas far from ordinary grey, rainy and cold Sweden.
It is more difficult to recreate a Swedish Christmas in Uganda. The salted cooked ham neither tastes nor looks the same. The imported pickled herring that sometimes can be bought at Shoprite never appears at Christmas time and without fresh yeast, the saffron buns never rise. The sad looking plastic Christmas tree can never replace the proper pine tree that fathers and children are supposed to cut in the forest and bring into the living room on 23rd night. Gifts are found under the tree on 24th morning, but without the smell of pine and the open fire.
However, what we have retained, and even developed to perfection, is an advent calendar starting the first of December and ending Christmas eve. Every morning from the first to the 24th, the children find a small gift and a piece of chocolate in a box placed somewhere in the house.
Last Christmas, our now teenage children told us that to them Swedish Christmas traditions is a plastic tree from Game with non-functioning blinking lights, chocolate imported from South Africa and a BBQ in the garden for Christmas dinner, before opening the gifts. It doesn’t even remotely resemble the Christmases my husband and I grew up with. But as the children say, Swedish Christmas abroad allows us to create our own traditions.
Venita Patnaik (Indian)
Rum cakes and rose cookies
A discourse about Goan Christmas can hardly be complete without the food. Christmas in Goa (India) is synonymous with traditional rich plum cake. And the preparation for this starts months in advance, with soaking dry fruits in rum. I have continued this tradition even after moving to Kampala 17 years ago.
In the days leading to the 25th, I start preparing traditional Goan Christmas sweets such as kulkuls, rose cookies, neureos, milk fudge and marzipan.
A few days before Christmas our friends from the Indian Catholic Community of Uganda (ICCU) go carol singing, dressed in red and white. One year we carried a donation box, and the money raised was used to buy Christmas gifts for the sickle cell kids in Mulago hospital.
Christmas day, just as it would be at home, starts early. My husband, Tharun, and sons, Karan and Arjun, accompany me for the 8 am mass at Christ the King church.
Lunch on that day is a traditional spread of green pea pulao, pork sorpotel, Russian salad, chicken xacutti, croquettes and bebinca for dessert. During my trips to Goa, I stock up on Vinicola, a sweet red port wine, without which our Christmas lunch is incomplete.
Jennifer Straghalis Griffith (Greek Orthodox)
Three Kings and a Christmas song
As Greek Orthodox, Easter is bigger than Christmas for us. But our Christmas celebrations stretch for almost a month, from the first week of December (St. Nicholas Day) to the first week of January (Three Kings’ Day).
Orthodox Christmas is believed to be on January 6 (Three Kings’ Day), and on this day we visit church, meet family, exchange gifts and eat good food. Our food is mostly Arabic and Mediterranean. Lamb dishes are a very important part of these festivities.
In fact our gifts are hugely influenced by the lore of the Three Kings, who are believed to have come bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We gift things that we believe are of value.
St. Nicholas is also an important part of our religious scriptures. There is a beautiful St. Nicholas Orthodox Church on Namungoona Road. My son is named after the saint. We have accepted several Western traditions too, today. So we do advent twice. We also go to church on December 24th.
Erik Sorel (Dutch)
Sinterklaas, steamboats and all things sweet
Back home, in Netherlands, Sinterklaas (or St Nicholas) is bigger than Santa Claus. They may look similar, but are very different. Firstly, Sinterklaas arrives two weeks before his birthday (on December 6), which is when the revelry begins. Folklore has it that Sinterklaas arrives from Spain with helpers, on a steamboat filled with gifts and candy. The main celebration happens on the eve of St. Nicholas Day.
In Uganda, we have a Sinterklaas Committee that strives to recreate this folklore, away from home. This year too, on December 3, we will have about 80 Dutch children at the Victoria Nyanza Sailing Club, Kaazi (a boat ride from Speke Resort in Munyonyo) who will witness Sinterklaas arriving on a boat with lots of gifts and goodies.
Gifting among Dutch adults during this time is all about satire and
humour. The gift must reflect a funny aspect of the person receiving the gift, as must the gift wrapping. We also add a poem or rhyme.
On Sinterklass, we eat chocolate alphabets, kruidnoen and pepernoot (Dutch confectionary), speculaas (cookies with spices).
Dutch expats can reach the committee at email@example.com
Friederike Schnurre (German)
Weihnachtsmärkte, Gemütlichkeit and Musik
The thought of advent and Christmas reminds me of frostiness, candle light, Christmas music and fragrances. Christmas in Germany is in winter – the coldest and darkest season of the year, with short days, long nights. Since I spent many years abroad – I always tried to create some German Christmas atmosphere wherever I lived.
The first week my husband, who works for the German GIZ, and I arrived in Uganda, in September 2015, I was very happy to meet some German ladies, who were also thinking of doing something nice during Christmas. The idea, of organizing a German Christmas Market in Kampala, germinated here.
It was a great success last year and many visitors enjoyed our German Christmas atmosphere. The German Christmas Team 2016 (Sabine Blomeyer, Carmen Weber and me) are in the midst of preparing for this year’s market.
Once again, there will be a big Christmas Bazaar, with more than 60 vendors selling arts, crafts and specialities. In the upper garden of the residence of the German Ambassador, where the whole event will take place, the German “Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas markets) will be set up with traditional Christmas goodies such as Stollen (fruit bread), Marzipan, waffles, ginger bread, Bratwurst with Red cabbage and much more, and for sure the delicious Glühwein, our version of hot mulled wine will be on sale as well.
As a member of Kampala Singers, the choir of Kampala Music School, I am glad that our choir will make a musical contribution to our market.
The German Christmas Bazaar will be held on December 4 at the
German Ambassador’s residence from 12 to 7 pm.