By Roseline Souebele
Christmas is a big event, a mass Christian celebration. Even many non-Christians share that they are moved by the feeling of Christmas – all the lights and decorations in the neighborhoods, and all the decorated evergreen trees outdoors for everyone to enjoy. Kids who celebrate the holiday share stories of Santa Claus, and parents relax in the atmosphere of joy and gratitude while they celebrate with their families and friends the life of Jesus Christ. But this year, something is different, and we are not living the same “normal” anymore. Our celebration of Christmas has to be revised.
When I look back to my life a year ago, I smile as I recall the holiday back in my Congo, my motherland. There, Christmas is a celebration primarily for children, with adults more focused on the New Year’s holiday. During the period leading up to Christmas, the public open market is crowded with people of all socioeconomic classes, walking back and forth between toys sellers’ tables, looking for just the right gift for their child. Pressure rises within families between the mother and the father, who is seen as the provider and must come up with the money for toys and also for special clothing for the kids. This becomes something of a competition between families in the neighborhood – who is going to have the latest version of an outfit or a toy or a game? Mothers push their husbands to do more, and the kids push, too, sharing which kinds of gifts they want – sometimes without taking into account their parents’ financial situation.
On Christmas morning, the kids are extremely excited. They dress in their new clothes, with hair beautifully done, and go to church. Each child carries their new toy for everybody to see and appreciate – for many kids, Christmas is the only time in the year when they will be given a toy. On the streets and in the church, it is like a fashion show and a toy show all in one. After church, every compound fills with smoke as each family works to have their big meal ready before 3 p.m. Usually the meal is fried or baked chicken with tomato sauce, cassava leaves with peanut butter, rice, white beans with red sauce, orange juice, and beer for the adults. Loud and varied music resonates from every corner of the compound. Everybody feels excited to come together, share a meal, dance, and shout “Noël!” Later after eating, the streets are crowded with people reveling. Bars at every corner are full of young people drinking juice and dancing as if tomorrow will never come. And everyone takes photos at improvised photo studios to immortalize the moment.
But things have changed all around the world with the new coronavirus still circulating, and families are questioning how they are going to celebrate the holidays when they can’t be together with others. Here in Portland, the Christmas tree is going up, festive lights are being prepared – but how will we all stay connected without endangering our lives?
All Christians have memories about how they have celebrated Christmas in the past. In this critical time, however, I think we need to do things differently in order to be able to return to our lovely holiday traditions again soon. Here at Hope House, we are wearing masks and social distancing. Why not enjoy the company of just the people from your household this year? You can stay virtually connected to others by sharing pictures and holiday cards. I know we can do this!
As a COVID-19 survivor, I plan to spend my Christmas sharing my plasma with people who are still struggling with the virus. Many of us can help in this same way. Please, I beg of you – don’t light a candle of farewell this holiday season, but instead shine a light of hope and resilience. It’s been almost a year since the pandemic struck. We may be tired of it all, but remember – tomorrow is still ahead, and we can each help to exchange this new normal back to our former, beloved normal.
We’ve got this – MERRY CHRISTMAS from Hope House!
Roseline Souebele is a resident of Hope House, Portland