I don’t usually go home for Christmas. By home I mean Meru, to my mother’s house. I typically spend the holidays in Nairobi, enjoying the traffic-free streets, in a collective stupor with everyone else, sinking into that limbo period where we don’t know what day it is or when we last ate a vegetable.
In 2020, my sister and I dressed up in flowery dresses that felt very festive and spent Christmas Day eating tacos and people-watching at a Mexican restaurant at the Sarit Centre food court. By the time evening came, we had drunk so many margaritas we could barely see. They make them in really interesting flavours, from fruity, to spicy, to sour. And they just kept them coming because, you know, it’s Christmas Day, so why not? A good time was had.
Last year, I almost didn’t make it to Nairobi for Christmas, having contracted COVID-19 while in Kampala for work, which meant spending two weeks in quarantine. With travel regulations changing constantly, it took a combination of begging and straight-up tears before Ugandan officials at Entebbe International Airport would let me board a KQ plane back home, despite the fact that I had served my time in isolation and was armed with a negative PCR test. Anyway, I made it into my house at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Day, exhausted, and not quite believing my good luck. I had come so close to spending Christmas alone in a hotel room eating the same bland hotel food I had been eating for 2 weeks.
To celebrate, my friends came over, and we cooked, and drank unholy amounts of beer (and prosecco on the nights we felt fancy), and played Kenya 50 – which you should only play with people you love very much because that game brings out your savage side and ruins relationships if they aren’t strong enough. We spent an idyllic three days together, being couch potatoes, refusing to be of any use to anyone, and just revelling in the fact that we had survived the year.
2021 was so hard, you guys. Whew.
This year is different. I will be going to Meru and taking my friends with me. The party will shift to my mother’s house, where she shall no doubt wake us up at the crack of dawn with blaring Christmas music on the radio so we can start slaughtering chicken and pounding spices for pilau. We’ll spend the morning roasting and frying and slicing, with the radio on in the background, competing to be heard over the conversations and all the kitchen noises. We’ll then sit down to a proper meal together because my mother will want to say a blessing for the food, and she does not believe in people randomly grazing as they please, not on christmas day. Afterwards, we’ll spread mats out on the grass and catch siestas in the shade, occasionally getting up to fetch a cold beer from the fridge. Maybe we’ll play cards. We might even go out. But mostly we’ll just chill.
I am lucky to have the friends I do, my very own tribe with whom I can form new traditions and seamlessly integrate into the fabric of my life. They are my chosen sisters, the actual loves of my life. We look out for each other, we create space for each other (my childhood bed will be a squeeze and someone will have to sleep on the couch but we’ll make it work), we choose each other. Our Christmases together are a tradition we’ll want to keep going for a long long time.
Holidays are for family and family is what you make it.
Sometimes family is just you, and your bed, and your takeout. I have spent Christmases entirely alone, and I might have to again at some point in the future. It’s not too bad, being alone on the day, if you don’t hate your own company. You can watch hours of TV and make a nice lunch and read books and dance to music in your kitchen. You can take a walk, or a drive, because the streets will not be too busy, and if you are not too self conscious, you can sit in a restaurant or a bar (the counter is always a good spot for solo diners), and order a fancy meal with an expensive drink to go with it. Merry christmas.