It was the night before Christmas and I was very sad because my family life had been
severely disrupted and I was sure that Christmas would never come. There was none of
the usual joy and anticipation that I always felt during the Christmas season. I was
eight years old, but in the past few months, I had aged greatly.
Christmas had always been for me one of the joyous religious festivals. The church
started preparing way back in November. We really felt that we were preparing for
the birth of the baby Jesus. The children and all the young people loved to make
colorful crepe paper ornaments and decorate their homes and schools with them.
Beautiful Christmas music could be heard everywhere on the streets, on the radio and
even on television. It was the time when relatives and friends visited each other,
so there were always people traveling and visiting with great joy from all the
different tribes. Oh, how I wished I had some of the traditional food of rice,
chicken, goat, lamb, and fruits of various kinds consumed at Christmas now!
All of us looked forward to the Christmas Eve Service at our church. After the
service there would be a joyous procession through the streets. Throughout the
celebration, everyone was greeted with the special greeting word, "Afishapa" meaning
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Everyone would be in a gala mood. Then on
Christmas Day we went back to church to read the scriptures and sing carols to
remind us of the meaning of the blessed birth of the baby Jesus. After the Christmas
service young people received gifts of special chocolate, special cookies, and
special crackers. Young people were told that the gifts come from Father Christmas.
They also received new clothes and perhaps new pairs of shoes. We always thought
that these were the things that meant Christmas. Oh how I wish that those memories
were real tonight!
However, this Christmas Eve things were different and I knew Christmas would not
come. Everyone was sad and desperate because of what had happened earlier in the
year, in April, when the so-called Army of Liberation attacked our village and took
all the young boys and girls away. Families were separated and some were murdered.
We were forced to work and march for many miles without food. We were often hungry.
The soldiers burned everything in our village and during our forced march we lost
all sense of time and place.
During one rainy night we were miraculously able to get away from the soldiers .
After several weeks in the tropical forest we made our way back to our burned out
village. Most of us were sick, exhausted, and depressed. Most of the members of our
families were nowhere to be found. We had no idea what day or time it was. This was
the situation until my sick grandmother noticed the reddish and yellow flower we
call, "Fire on the Mountain." It was blooming in the middle of the marketplace where
it had stood and bloomed for generations at Christmas time. For some reason it had
survived the fire that had engulfed the marketplace. (I remembered how the nectar
from this beautiful flower had always attracted insects making them drowsy enough to
fall to the ground to become food for crows and lizards.) We were surprised that the
fire the soldiers had started that burned the marketplace and the village did not
destroy the "Fire on the Mountain" tree. What a miracle it was.
Grandmother told us that it was almost Christmas because the flower was blooming. As
far as she could remember this only occurred at Christmas time. My spirits were
lifted for a few minutes as I saw the flower. Soon I became sad again. How could
Christmas come without my parents? How could we celebrate after all we had suffered?
How could we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace? Since April, we had not
known any peace, only war and suffering. Even though Grandmother's last words to us,
before she died the night before, were to celebrate, how could we?
As I continued to think about past joyous Christmases and the present suffering, we
heard the horn of a car and not just one horn but several cars approaching our
village. At first we thought they were cars full of men with machine guns so we hid
in the forest. To our surprise they were not and they did not have guns. They were
just ordinary travelers. It seemed the bridge over the river near our village had
been destroyed last April as the soldiers left our village. Since it was almost dusk
and there were rumors that there were land mines on the roads, they did not want to
take any chances. Their detour had led them straight to our village.
When they saw us they were shocked and horrified at the suffering and the
devastation all around us. Many of these travelers began to cry. They told us that
it really was Christmas Eve. All of them were on their way to their villages to
celebrate Christmas with family and friends. Now circumstances had brought them to
our village at this time on this night before Christmas. They shared the little food
they had with us. They even helped us build a fire in the center of the marketplace
to keep us warm.
In the middle of all this, my pregnant sister became ill. I was so afraid for my
sister because we did not have any medical supplies and we were not near a hospital.
Some of the travelers and the villagers removed their shirts and clothes to make a
bed for my sister to lie near the fire we had made. On that fateful night my sister
gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. This called for a celebration and, war or no
war, Africans have to dance! We celebrated until the rooster crowed at 6 a.m. We
sang Christmas songs, everyone singing in his or her own language. For the first
time all the pain and agony of the past few months was gone.
When morning finally came my sister was asked, "What are you going to name the
baby"? Would you believe for the first time since our village was burned and all the
young girls and boys were taken away, she spoke. She said, "His name is Gye Nyame,
which means except God I fear none."
And so, Christmas really did come to our village that night, but it did not come in
the cars or with the travelers. It came in the birth of my nephew in the midst of
our suffering. We saw hope in what this little child could do. A miracle occurred
that night before Christmas, and I knew we were not alone any more. I had learned
that Christmas comes in spite of all circumstances; indeed the true spirit of
Christmas is always within us all. Christmas came even to our village that night.