by Roseline Souebele

I have discovered that in many respects, celebrations such as New Year’s happen pretty much the same way all around the globe – a big meal, a family gathering, and gifts. Some small things may be different – for example, in Congo we don’t exchange holiday cards. But basically, we celebrate in much the same ways. And despite being in the middle of a pandemic, people are still excited to celebrate the New Year. We must be socially distanced and smile with our eyes, rather than with our mouths, but it is obvious from the behavior of community members that the pandemic has not changed the fact that we can still be happy and rejoice in the season.

In the Congo, New Year’s Eve is a huge celebration for adults. Churches organize big celebrations where everyone counts down together to the last second before the New Year. On December 31, 2000, many people believed earth was on the edge of huge changes – aliens would come to earth, the sky would no longer be the same, cars would change, the end of the world was at hand. Since then, believers have tried to be in church when the New Year turns, so in the event of tragedy, God will remember them. Women especially fill the churches, praying and dancing until midnight.

In the morning, cooking begins for a huge meal. Hair salons are crowded as every woman does her best to shine. Husbands and boyfriends, who are the providers in Congo, are expected to provide for the costs of everything for the family, from hair to toes – if they don’t, there is no hand to hold when the party begins! During a long night of celebration, there is drinking and dancing in bars, nightclubs, or in open spaces. Some people are found in the streets, too drunk to remember their way home. And the number of pregnant women – including teenagers – rises for the next few months after New Year’s.

In Portland, seasonal lights are on, gifts have been mailed back home, and plans are made to be with families and friends in the future, in the hopes that 2021 will be different. The hard times we are all going through right now have not changed anything about how we like to relate to each other and share love and happiness. Many of us have lost friends, relatives, and those we love deeply. This is so unfortunate and so sad, but we can still shine for those we have lost.

I am thankful and grateful to Portland and its people, who have extended their hands to support others in order for all of us to survive this. Thank you to Hope Acts, and to all the organizations that are working to provide food, shelter, and mental health support during this time. What better can we ask than to call for blessings for all of you and for your families, in the same way that you are taking care of us.
Let us hold hands together and wish for a better tomorrow. Happy New Year 2021!

Roseline Souebele is a resident of Hope House