Missions: Christmas in Chiwoma

Missions: Christmas in Chiwoma

Wexford’s Fr Fritz O’Kelly describes Christmas on the African Missions as part of a collection of letters now published in book form

At Christmas time in Chiwoma, the people gathered firewood and prepared for a night of singing. It was a very beautiful moonlight night. They sing with great devotion, rhythm and harmony. Their children were sleeping on mats on the ground. A few sudden heavy thunderstorms during the night scattered everyone and they took shelter in the church but carried on their singing. At daybreak a crowd were hammering on my door and shouting: ”Christmas! Christmas!” Some still have inherited this old idea, which comes from colonial times: they are looking for a hand-out from Europeans. This is a pity because it gives a false idea of the feast. I don’t mind being generous but will not be so on demand. So discretion must always be on hand. All the girls and women decorate their hair with many flowers. At Mass in the morning we had a great crowd.  (Fr Fritz with a youth group from NW province during the visit of Pope John Paul II to Lusaka.) Those who were to be baptised had walked here on the previous day over a distance of 12 miles. They sing so well in church too and when they sing ”Allelulia!” they really mean it and almost lift the roof of the church. There are 52 Alleluias in the Gloria for the Christmas season. On Christmas Day I left the Toyota outside the church and left the tape playing all day for a fine disco-beat session. All the men and boys danced their heads off. Dancing is a real part of African life and partners are not necessary. All they need is the music and the beat and sometimes someone to dance at! I remember a long time ago when I was in an African bar in the bush and there was very lively Congolese music playing. The headmaster of the school came to me and asked me to dance with him. Not being familiar with the customs at the time, I declined anyway I hadn’t brought my ballet dancing shoes with me. This is the season too for that honeybeer (Kasola) and there is plenty of that distilled fire water (Lutuku) around. Many people are very drunk and many quarrels and fights ensue which is rather deplorable. Over Christmas we had a great supply of things to sell for the people. Rice and sugar were very much in demand. Recently I managed to get a load of sheets and blanket material from Dr Tony in Solwezi and this is an unknown luxury in the area.

– December 1982

Christmas has passed by. I thank you for all your greetings and kind gifts. I was alone in Mwinilunga over the Christmas period. Fr Terence has set off to care for the long line of outstations as the secondary school was closed and he was free to go. For the Christmas Eve night Mass, I was told that it was usual to do baptisms at this Mass. (Actually it was not true) I shouldn’t have asked. If you ask a question here, people agree with you! So I was landed with 47 baptisms during the Mass which made the long celebration ceremony even longer. However, I got through it all in two hours. Singing is excellent always and the choir did its part well. It is the best in the whole area. With the two great sisters, Aurelia and Marina, and four German volunteers, we celebrated a little together at midnight. After Christmas, I visited many villages with the sisters selling great quantities of powdered milk, beans, and butter oil at token prices, avoiding school teachers and salaried people who have money and tend to be greedy and selfish. The gift of food is meant for the poorer people. Anyway it’s a nice occupation as malnutrition is rife in the area amongst the children particularly and these items are essential to supplement the poor diet of kasava flour.

– January 1982