As Advent season kicks off, we’ve been watching all the Christmas preparations that are going on in Australia. This is our first Christmas not in transition for 5 years and with Elliot growing up it’s a good opportunity to start thinking some more about our family Christmas traditions.
Living cross-culturally brings another element to our thinking on this. One option is to try to re-create Australian Christmas; another is to try to have an ‘authentic’ Tanzanian Christmas (not that we know what this is yet!). Rather than thinking of one or the other or a hybrid, we’re asking how our conceptions of what Christmas is for might be reshaped.
Living cross-culturally means we’re away from our family, a strange thing for both Australians and Tanzanians at this time of year. We grieve being far away at what is normally a special family time, but we’re asking what space this leaves in our family life to welcome others in. How might we build hospitality into our Christmas traditions? One thing we’ll be exploring in the next few weeks is what students do over Christmas. There’s a week’s break, but Christmas doesn’t occur in the long break like it does in Australia, so we want to find out whether students go home for Christmas.
The normal markers of Christmas in Australia don’t exist in the same way here – the Christmas pageant, the hyped-up shopping spectacle, etc. There’s a little bit of tinsel available at a few shops, and some people have trees, but neither of these are plastered everywhere like in Australia. We could definitely source some decorations if we wanted to, but we’re wondering whether this is a good chance to decouple our Christmas celebrations from the consumerism that accompanies it in Australia. Our life here already seems lavish compared to how many Tanzanians live, and we’re not keen on stepping that up another level so we can celebrate Christmas like Australians!
Tanzania has no official religion, or Judeo-Christian heritage like Australia, or majority Muslim faith like other parts of Africa and the rest of the world. Both Muslim and Christian religious holidays are public holidays. So while there are days off for Christmas, the whole society doesn’t celebrate it. For us, that provides the opportunities to celebrate Christmas as a purely religious festival.
We want Christmas to be celebratory – it’s the birth of our King! We’ll have presents and some kind of feast (Mama Velo thinks we’ll be eating our goat!) but we hope those will come as the culmination of Advent. I know lots of families try this in Australia and I’ve loved the Advent resource sharing that’s happened on my Facebook feed this year. But even so, I think that focus is hard for families to maintain in Australia, with the obligations of broader family plus the saturation of general cultural Christmas festivities in schools, shopping centres, the media, etc. So I’m thankful for the unique opportunity that celebrating Christmas as an expat family in Tanzania brings.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.